four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
25-Nov-Dec-2006
By: 
Ben Fountain
user_rating: 
0

Stories

A-Brief Encounters With Che Guevara.epsSet in countries avoided by most Western tourists—Myanmar, Colombia, Haiti, and Sierra Leone—this debut collection stars fishermen, aid workers, cynical government officials, an aging golfer, a kidnapped student (he didn’t look like a spy, causing the rebels to be sure he was one), a jealous military wife (her returned husband has taken up with a voodoo goddess), and a pianist with 11 fingers. Most of the stories concern the American experience abroad, from those struggling to make a difference to those searching for their next exploitative profit.
Ecco. 229 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0060885580

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Witty yet full of conscience, tinged with scrappy resignation, it uses devilishly clever layering to showcase people and countries—including the United States—hijacked by history. … Each of these eight stories is as rich as a novel—high praise when you consider how many of today’s novels could be distilled into a short story." Liesl Schillinger

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"These stories are both slightly absurdist and rendered in realistic detail of place and emotion, thereby making the impossible seem possible and the unlikely likely, at least for these characters. … Line by line, word by word, Fountain chooses just the right details, metaphors, similes and descriptions, so that the reader says, yes, that’s right, that’s how it is." Linda Burnett

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Many of these stories are not only ironic but downright funny—at the same time that they feel solid and real and invested with a genuine pathos. … Fountain handles the action with the smooth virtuosity of Stone or Graham Greene or John Le Carré." Madison Smartt Bell

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he best of these eight stories explore corrupt globalization and the ineffectuality of Western good intentions. … Politics aside, Fountain should be read for his metaphors and similes." Ariel Gonzalez

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The collection does contain a couple of misses, where Fountain lets his lively sense of the absurd get out of hand—these include an overheated voodoo love story and a parody about a washed-up golf pro giving putting lessons in Burma." Tricia Springstubb

Critical Summary

Tales of Americans subsisting in the third world and discovering new ways to think and behave are commonplace. But Ben Fountain’s lively, humorous treatment of his troubled characters earns generous praise. Instead of focusing his deft choices of words and inventive metaphors on a character’s internal experience, the author uses his literary prowess to examine the uncomfortable complexities of life outside the United States. He also takes time to portray the "dunes of garbage … so rich in colorful filth" on Haitian streets. That may be enough to prove, as the New York Times says, what a "heartbreaking, absurd, deftly drawn" collection this is.