Saturday, November 03, 2007

Review: Music Through The Floor

Music Through The Floor, by Eric Puchner
8/10, a character-driven collection of short stories

When I started taking classes at Stanford's Continuing Studies, I got to take classes from a number of current and former Stegner Fellows. The Stegner Fellowship is Stanford's version of an MFA in Creative Writing, a two-year fellowship during which you receive a stipend to work on your own work and workshop the work of your fellow fellows. Only five people each year receive a fellowship out of 5,000 or so applicants, so it's pretty prestigious.

Eric Puchner and his wife, Katharine Noel, both received Stegner Fellowships and have both published books. I reviewed Katharine's novel, Halfway House, and after attending a reading in which her husband participated, I picked up his book of stories as well.

I have noted in the past that I have a bias toward character-based work. This collection might have been made for someone with that bias. Puchner's characters are quirky, fascinating, funny, and real. The language is good, and the plots work, for the most part. A few of the stories I found to have odd endings, which is another pet peeve of mine that I keep thinking I've posted about here but it turns out I haven't. What I mean in this case is that the stories ended, but I wasn't quite sure what was resolved.

The best in the collection, for my money, is "Essay #3: Leda and the Swan," a plaintive attempt by a high school student to explain the strange (and yet completely normal) turn her life has taken in the past year. Puchner's talent really shines in this one, with clever turns of language to show someone trying hard to use words she hasn't quite mastered, a story that reveals itself through the narrator's words without her quite understanding it, and a complex cast of characters all revealed expertly through the main character's voice. All of the other stories have memorable characters, and most of them have a good, distinctive voice.

Puchner has a novel coming out in January, which is the text he read from. I'll certainly go out and pick that one up. If you like quirky characters and subtle humor, finding strangeness in everyday life, or if you just enjoy reading good writing, this is a collection for you.

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