The End of the End of Everything – Dale Bailey

The End of the End of EverythingThe End of the End of Everything by Dale Bailey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Dale Bailey because his prose makes me want to write and when his stories speak to me, they sing.

I only connected with some of the stories in this collection – “The Bluehole,” “A Rumor of Angels,” and “Eating at the End-of-the-World Cafe” – and I’m not wholly certain what differentiates them from the other stories. It might be as simple as my connection to the characters. Once I look past Bailey’s prose, his characters all possess a realness I find compelling. It keeps me reading even when I don’t like them or I’m tired of their type: i.e., Ben Devine in the title story, yet another middle-aged mediocre white-guy writer who has affairs with co-eds and navel gazes about his own mediocrity. I’ve read enough of those stories. I wanted to love “Troop 9,” but I think it would have been an ideal story for me if it was written by a woman, about women (I’m thinking in particular of Ellen Klages, and recalling her story “Woodsmoke”) instead of being about men in the end. I can see and appreciate the things Bailey is doing in these stories, the ways he interrogates the tropes, uses Ben as a lens for the world-goes-to-ruin scenario, uses John Hardesty to explore the effects or war and toxic masculinity on women and a community in a place and a time, but I’d rather read those stories through the gazes of different people, like Tom and Lily (“Rumor of Angels”) or Eleanor (“Eating at the End-of-the-World Cafe”).

But that prose is so smooth and lovely, those ideas and details strange and alluring. Goddamn if I don’t want to grab everything Bailey’s written and gobble it up.

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Wicked Wonders – Ellen Klages

Wicked WondersWicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ellen Klages might be my writing spirit animal. In the Afterword at the end of this collection, “Why I Write Short Fiction,” she describes her process, and it’s very similar to my own. Except for all the research, and the deadlines. I have no deadlines, so I never write anything. But damn if reading her work doesn’t make me want to write. I’ve been longing to tap away on this keyboard all day. If I could attack my fiction with the same gusto I’m giving this review, I would be content.

Every story in this collection is unique. Every story made me think. I want to read half of them again right now, which is one of the highest compliments I can give a writer. I also want to get a copy of everything else she’s written so I can binge on it until I’m stuffed and happy. Klages builds such a strong sense of place in every piece, through details of the setting, but also through the characters, that I fall into her work and inhabit it. I don’t want to leave.

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