Wednesday, July 10, 2013

God Bless America by Steve Almond~★★★★★

Author: Steve Almond
Title: God Bless America: Stories
Release Date: October 25, 2011
Publisher: Lookout Books
Genre: Fiction

Book Cover: "In his most ambitious collection yet, Steve Almond offers a comic and forlorn portrait of these United States: our lust for fame, our racial tension, the toll of perpetual war, and the pursuit of romantic happiness. 
In the exuberant title story, a hapless would-be-actor, desperate to escape the drudgery of his existence, lands the role of a lifetime. In 'Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched,' reprinted in Best American Short Stories, a psychoanalyst with a secret gambling addiction squares off over the poker table against a damaged ex-patient. In 'First Date Back,' a young woman becomes the target of a traumatized soldier's misguided hopes for love. And 'A Dream of Sleep,' the collection's final story, presents a grief-stricken refugee who tends the graves of a forgotten cemetery, only to have his fragile peace shattered y an unwelcome visitor. 
Each of these thirteen stories is an urgent investigation of America's soul, its particular suffering, its injustices, its possibilities for redemption. With deft slight of hand, Almond 'a writer who knows us as well as we know ourselves' (Houston Chronicle), leavens his disappointment and outrage with a persistent hope for the men and women who inhabit his worlds. God Bless America offers us an astonishing vision of our collective fate, rendered in Almond's signature style of 'precise strokes . . . with metaphors so original and spot-on that they read like epiphanies" (San Francisco Chronicle). 

Taryn's Review: I went to library just before the 4th of July, and although I knew my review wouldn't make it before the holiday, I wanted a book that appeared to celebrate America in some way (good or bad). To my delight, one of the random books I pulled off the shelf not only had a patriotic title, but it featured a man with an eagle mask wearing an Uncle Sam-esque getup as a therapist in a rabbit mask appeared to listen to the eagle-masked man! By this point I was already thoroughly won over, but as I flipped over the book I saw a raving blurb by Junot Diaz listed first on the back. Since I had just finished Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and enjoyed it, I figured I couldn't go wrong with something that Diaz endorsed.

This book did not disappoint in the least and was even better than I could have anticipated. I generally enjoy short stories, but sometimes they are too complex for me to fully grasp or are too uninteresting for me to care. However, Almond's writing style was perfection. I will fully admit I didn't understand all the metaphors completely (no shame...I know where my weaknesses lie!), but I loved the way Almond crafted the stories. My favorite stories were "God Bless America," "Shotgun Wedding," "Tamalpais," and "A Jew Berserk on Christmas Eve." Almond wrote the book in a very...real fashion. His stories were not sugar-coated fluff, but truly American, representing the messed-up daily events that happen across the nation. Almond presented them in such a way that there isn't necessarily shame in reading them, but fascination and a desire to know more about the people in the stories.

In a way, Almond's writing style reminded me a bit of Flannery O'Connor's style and their abilities to tie in bigger themes without being completely overt in their goal. Almond is a talent that I am pleased to have found on my library bookshelves and I look forward to reading his other works (a quick Google search says there are 9 other Almond works). This is definitely a must-read for anyone who enjoys short stories, especially those who seek a very fresh approach viewing American voices and people.

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