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In New York Times bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler's new collection, the fantastic and the uncanny lurk just below the surface of ordinary lives. In the award-winning title story, the narrator recounts the events of an expedition to the Belgian Congo in 1928 to collects gorillas for the Louisville Museum of Natural History. A mother invents a fairy-tale world for her so In New York Times bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler's new collection, the fantastic and the uncanny lurk just below the surface of ordinary lives. In the award-winning title story, the narrator recounts the events of an expedition to the Belgian Congo in 1928 to collects gorillas for the Louisville Museum of Natural History. A mother invents a fairy-tale world for her son in 'Halfway People'. Twin sisters backpacking through Europe receive a mysterious invitation. A rebellious teenager is sent to a brutal reform school hidden away in paradise. A young woman inherits the family submarine. In 'The Dark', a researcher tracking plague outbreaks finds himself in the Viet Cong tunnels of Vietnam. A mystery writer visits an archaeological dig in Egypt and sets a curse in motion. In two stories, 'Booth's Ghost' and 'Standing Room Only', Fowler explores the circumstances of Lincoln's assassination from the perspectives of John Wilkes Booth's family and friends. Fowler, perhaps best known for her novels, is a master of the short story form: the secret history, the account of first contact, the murderous, ordinary tensions of family life. She draws on fairy tales, historical narratives, and war reportage, measuring the human capacities for hope and despair, brutality and kindness in the fantastic tradition of writers such as Shirley Jackson, T.H. White, Karen Russell, and Ursula K. Le Guin.


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In New York Times bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler's new collection, the fantastic and the uncanny lurk just below the surface of ordinary lives. In the award-winning title story, the narrator recounts the events of an expedition to the Belgian Congo in 1928 to collects gorillas for the Louisville Museum of Natural History. A mother invents a fairy-tale world for her so In New York Times bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler's new collection, the fantastic and the uncanny lurk just below the surface of ordinary lives. In the award-winning title story, the narrator recounts the events of an expedition to the Belgian Congo in 1928 to collects gorillas for the Louisville Museum of Natural History. A mother invents a fairy-tale world for her son in 'Halfway People'. Twin sisters backpacking through Europe receive a mysterious invitation. A rebellious teenager is sent to a brutal reform school hidden away in paradise. A young woman inherits the family submarine. In 'The Dark', a researcher tracking plague outbreaks finds himself in the Viet Cong tunnels of Vietnam. A mystery writer visits an archaeological dig in Egypt and sets a curse in motion. In two stories, 'Booth's Ghost' and 'Standing Room Only', Fowler explores the circumstances of Lincoln's assassination from the perspectives of John Wilkes Booth's family and friends. Fowler, perhaps best known for her novels, is a master of the short story form: the secret history, the account of first contact, the murderous, ordinary tensions of family life. She draws on fairy tales, historical narratives, and war reportage, measuring the human capacities for hope and despair, brutality and kindness in the fantastic tradition of writers such as Shirley Jackson, T.H. White, Karen Russell, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

30 review for What I Didn't See, and Other Stories

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jan Priddy

    When I bought this book from Small Beer at AWP, I thought it was a new collection, and said as much to Karen Joy Fowler a short time later. She signed my copy and she muttered about her frustration with the novel she is currently writing (her husband has reminded her that this is not new, that she struggled for years with her "ape story") and I recognized the topic of the current struggle from a story she shared in a class I had with her long ago. "That was the impetus," I think she said when I When I bought this book from Small Beer at AWP, I thought it was a new collection, and said as much to Karen Joy Fowler a short time later. She signed my copy and she muttered about her frustration with the novel she is currently writing (her husband has reminded her that this is not new, that she struggled for years with her "ape story") and I recognized the topic of the current struggle from a story she shared in a class I had with her long ago. "That was the impetus," I think she said when I called out the title. I was delighted to find that story here in this collection. In fact, most of the stories in this collection were familiar to me. I was surprised as I read to recognize one after another. I suppose I have been paying more attention than I knew. Fowler has a way of twisting a story, of turning it just as you become comfortable with where you think it is going and taking it another direction entirely. Perhaps not every story in this collection is five stars. Their impact is spectacular but troubling. I think authors can get away with that in short stories. The sad ending is something this author promises not to do "again"in the last story, but given that the story predates other stories in the collection it is well to remind myself that these are fiction.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    What I Didn't See is a short collection of short stories written by Karen Joy Fowler. That information alone was enough for me to put this book on my to-read list. However... Fowler has been publishing since 1985, and I've been avidly reading her work since at least the early 1990s. And although (except for "Booth's Ghost") the individual stories here are mostly reprints, whose original publication dates stretch back to 1991... somehow almost all of them were new to me. This particular collectio What I Didn't See is a short collection of short stories written by Karen Joy Fowler. That information alone was enough for me to put this book on my to-read list. However... Fowler has been publishing since 1985, and I've been avidly reading her work since at least the early 1990s. And although (except for "Booth's Ghost") the individual stories here are mostly reprints, whose original publication dates stretch back to 1991... somehow almost all of them were new to me. This particular collection was published 'way back in 2010, too—so I have no idea how I overlooked it for so long, before seeing my Goodreads friend Aerin's recent recommendation. Possibly I overlooked this collection and its contents because they're not genre SF. Fowler rarely employs obvious sfnal props—no spacecraft, wizards, robots, werewolves or the like. The stories in What I Didn't See are, if not always entirely realistic, always reality-adjacent—oh, they're certainly speculative fiction, or most of 'em are, and a couple of them have even won Nebula Awards, but their speculative elements are subtle matters of nuance and emphasis. Whatever the reason, not seeing What I Didn't See was my mistake. * As is my wont, I will share brief impressions of each tale: "The Pelican Bar" Norah thinks of herself as an abductee. She's not wrong. "The Pelican Bar" is a disturbing examination of how parents both assert and relinquish control—and, I thought, an oddly downbeat opening for What I Didn't See. "Booth's Ghost" This story, original to What I Didn't See, feels like history—Fowler focuses on John Wilkes Booth's family, and their acting careers, and in so doing provides an alternative perspective (not an excuse or an apologia but rather, let's say, a clarification) for Abraham Lincoln's assassin. "The Last Worders" So, a couple of twins go into a bar... or at least one of 'em does. Charlotta and her unnamed sister, our narrator, have always been inseparable... but San Margais is a land divided not just physically but by its history, during which at one point even poetry was outlawed. This is actually one of the most fantastic stories in What I Didn't See, with a setting worthy of Christopher Priest and characters like something from Daphne du Maurier. "The Dark" This one I remembered—I'd encountered "The Dark" recently enough, in fact, that its references to pandemics throughout history were still fresh in my mind. Fowler's story stood out for me among the many in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's gargantuan anthology The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, and I enjoyed it anew while rereading it here. "Always" Barnum said there's a sucker born every minute... but how often do they die?You can always tell a cult from a religion, she said, because a cult is just a set of rules that lets certain men get laid. —p.75Words of wisdom... "Familiar Birds" You had to wonder sometimes just how smart our mothers were. —p.93Ambiguous. "Private Grave 9" {...}I didn't think of myself as unengaged from the world so much as careful in it. —p.117This one gave me vibes like Pat Murphy's amazing genre-crossing novel The Falling Woman—oh, and Fowler's story was pretty good too. "The Marianas Islands" "It's not everyone who has a submarine." —p.129Truer words were never spoken. I've rambled about how often the romantic notion of a personal submarine crops up in fiction—from Yellow Submarine to Matt Ruff's Sewer Gas and Electric—but Fowler's version comes across as the most likely yet. "Halfway People" There now, child. This is the wrong time to go to sleep. Maura is about to fall in love. —p.143This fable of swans and men felt familiar, but I think that's because I read someone else's retelling in another venue, not too long ago. "Standing Room Only" Anna knows that she is "living in the most wondrous of times" (p.166) in this story, which revisits the same turning point that inspired "Booth's Ghost" and which, ultimately, reminded me of the classic short story (view spoiler)["Vintage Season" (1946), by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore (hide spoiler)] . "What I Didn't See" Despite having recently revisited Julie Phillips' amazing biography of James Tiptree, Jr., I wasn't sure what to make of this travelogue from a woman on an African safari back in the early 20th Century. I also, until I read Fowler's final choice, wondered why the title story wasn't either first or last in this collection... "King Rat" Even now some of the classics remain hard for me. —p.195I know that emotion too. This brief glimpse may not be autobiographical, but its intimate look at a writer's childhood certainly feels that way. After "King Rat" and its condensed intensity, I better understood why Fowler chose this, rather than the title tale, to round off her collection. * What I Didn't See is now a decade old, and as I said above, I don't know how I missed it when it was published—but I'm glad I didn't leave it unread any longer.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This falls somewhere around three and a half stars for me, but I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt because I didn't read it in my medium of choice. While I'm now okay with the occasional ebook, I don't think it's the ideal medium for short story collections. I want to be able to choose which story to read next. I want to be able to glance back at the title of the story I just read as soon as I'm done, because proper titling is an art form. I want to be able to glance at the credits and see wh This falls somewhere around three and a half stars for me, but I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt because I didn't read it in my medium of choice. While I'm now okay with the occasional ebook, I don't think it's the ideal medium for short story collections. I want to be able to choose which story to read next. I want to be able to glance back at the title of the story I just read as soon as I'm done, because proper titling is an art form. I want to be able to glance at the credits and see where each story was originally published. The list of credits appeared only at the end, and then I had to navigated the clunky table of contents all over again to try to figure out which stories had been published in which markets, since I had not managed to connect the titles with the stories. I'm now left trying to figure out why Asimov's published a couple of stories that I would not have recalled as speculative. A lot of these stories didn't really sit on the SF spectrum for me, but somewhere adjacent to it, like Fowler's early novels. I thought the second half of the collection was stronger than the first: the title story, with its riff on the life of Alice Sheldon, is excellent, and the fairy tale that I believe was called "Halfway People," and the short but poignant "King Rat." The last one reminds me of everything that I loved in her earlier collections, and why I always buy a magazine or anthology when I see that one of her stories is in it. Her novels have wandered a little from my taste, but her short fiction is masterful.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Not the best short stories I read in 2010, but I think the one about the immortality cult and the one about the teen sent away for brainwashing boot camp will stick with me.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Eckstein

    I've read several of Fowler's varied novels, so it was no surprise that the stories in this collection also range wildly in setting, genre, and focus. What they have in common is excellent writing, at least a dash of humor, and richly developed characters and worlds. About half the stories depict specific historical eras and sometimes take inspiration from real events and people. Two revolve around the assassination of Abraham Lincoln: "Booth's Ghost" tracks the careers of the Booth family of act I've read several of Fowler's varied novels, so it was no surprise that the stories in this collection also range wildly in setting, genre, and focus. What they have in common is excellent writing, at least a dash of humor, and richly developed characters and worlds. About half the stories depict specific historical eras and sometimes take inspiration from real events and people. Two revolve around the assassination of Abraham Lincoln: "Booth's Ghost" tracks the careers of the Booth family of actors, focusing on one of the brothers of the infamous John Wilkes, and except for the mildly ghostly bit, it's all rooted in truth. "Standing Room Only" follows a young woman, daughter of co-conspirator Mary Surratt, who is in love with JW and completely unaware of what else is going on. I'm impressed thinking about the amount of research that must have been required to write the 20-odd pages of a story like "The Dark", which starts with Yosemite disappearances in the 1950s and 60s, moves on to the history of pandemics, and then shifts to the work of soldiers who cleared tunnels during the Vietnam War. It shares a few elements with "What I Didn't See", narrated by a woman on a gorilla-hunting expedition in the 1920s, including that both stories aren't quite science fictional but also aren't quite grounded in reality. I enjoyed the blurry genre lines throughout this collection, and the frequent feeling that I had no idea what sort of story I was reading or where things might be going. "The Last Worders" involves twin American sisters taking a trip to an odd European city, on an odd quest, and every development twists the story in another direction until it all comes to a strange and satisfying ending. In "Always", a young woman joins an immortality cult in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the story arcs nicely around the many questions raised by the premise.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michael Beeman

    For some authors, a short story collections is like a science lab. The stories in this collection, published over a span of nearly two decades, show Fowler experimenting with many different styles and forms distinct from her novels. But no matter the genre or subject, the author retains what makes her full-length books so successful: an attention to detail, an ear for language, and compassion for her characters. For those who have found Fowler through her novels, these stories offer a chance to For some authors, a short story collections is like a science lab. The stories in this collection, published over a span of nearly two decades, show Fowler experimenting with many different styles and forms distinct from her novels. But no matter the genre or subject, the author retains what makes her full-length books so successful: an attention to detail, an ear for language, and compassion for her characters. For those who have found Fowler through her novels, these stories offer a chance to encounter an imaginative storyteller as she moves from subject to subject. One of the pleasures of reading an eclectic collection is being constantly turned around and never knowing what to expect, but trusting the author to pull off the next story. Fowler does so brilliantly, whether chronicling a girl’s life in a brutal reform home or tying together a family history through the stewardship of a homemade submarine. Again and again, Fowler combines the mundane and the extraordinary to produce fiction as imaginative as it is relatable. Although the stories in this collection have been published widely, readers may be most familiar with “Private Grave 9,” which was included in McSweeny’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. In the story, an archeologist falls in love with an Egyptian priestess, whose ghost may or may not be haunting him, compelling him to violence as he exhumes her tomb. While developing a picture of the priestess’s sarcophagus, he discovers a ghostly image of the woman’s face superimposed over the print. “A photograph is a moment you can spend your whole life looking at,” the narrator muses. This is Fowler at her best: unearthing a specific point in history, falling under its spell, and bringing the characters’ stories to life to offer a detailed snapshot of the past.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joy Pixley

    This is a collection of clever and insightful stories that go in unexpected directions. They are slow, quiet explorations of individuals and their lives and relationships. I really enjoyed many of the stories, but several others seemed to end abruptly, with no clear resolution. Definitely worth a look for fans of magical realism. Note that the first story was my least favorite, so if you don't like that one, please do keep reading: you may find you like the others better. This is a collection of clever and insightful stories that go in unexpected directions. They are slow, quiet explorations of individuals and their lives and relationships. I really enjoyed many of the stories, but several others seemed to end abruptly, with no clear resolution. Definitely worth a look for fans of magical realism. Note that the first story was my least favorite, so if you don't like that one, please do keep reading: you may find you like the others better.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    It's a hit and miss collection, but the misses are innocuous and the hits are home runs. Fowler is a gem. It's a hit and miss collection, but the misses are innocuous and the hits are home runs. Fowler is a gem.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Del Brocco

    Another uneven short story collection.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ellie

    What an interesting set of short stories. I enjoyed this book because of its quirkiness. It was a bit difficult to read through some of the stories though because they were a bit dry. But overall, a solid 3 stars.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Because of Pelican Bar, which in Evolution of SF group is noted as not actually being SF or fantasy except for nictitating membranes, even though it won genre awards. ..... Well. I thought it was SF. It was also ugly and opaque. I tried to read a couple others in the collection and couldn't. Because of Pelican Bar, which in Evolution of SF group is noted as not actually being SF or fantasy except for nictitating membranes, even though it won genre awards. ..... Well. I thought it was SF. It was also ugly and opaque. I tried to read a couple others in the collection and couldn't.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I'm not usually a fan of the short story. At best, I'm left feeling dissatisfied that the story (or stories) aren't novel length, and that the characters and the plot weren't fleshed out to completion. At worst, I finish them with a bitter after-taste based on not understanding what the author was trying to convey. I had read some of Karen Joy Fowler's books in the past and because I had enjoyed her writing before, I thought I'd give this compilation of stories a try. Besides, it was a library b I'm not usually a fan of the short story. At best, I'm left feeling dissatisfied that the story (or stories) aren't novel length, and that the characters and the plot weren't fleshed out to completion. At worst, I finish them with a bitter after-taste based on not understanding what the author was trying to convey. I had read some of Karen Joy Fowler's books in the past and because I had enjoyed her writing before, I thought I'd give this compilation of stories a try. Besides, it was a library book, so nothing was lost if they didn't engage me. The first story, The Pelican Bar, gripped me from its opening and while they all didn't engage me to that level, many did and the ones which didn't were still interesting enough to keep me reading. Fowler offered an array of different plots and characters, the story lines ranging from the late 1890s to present day. I found it interesting that two separate stories revolved around John Wilkes Booth and the assasination of President Lincoln and wondered if Fowler doesn't have a particular fascination for that period in history. All in all, I found this collection of short stories entertaining and satisfying. There were a few, as I imagined there would be, that left me frustrated and wishing she'd saved them for a full-length book, but even in their abbreviated format they never left me completely unsatisfied.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Pearl

    My favorite stories in this collection straddle the line between reality and not-quite-reality in a style I have long admired, even though I am never sure what to call it (Slipstream? Magical realism? Sci-fi?). The title story adheres pretty closely to historical fact, but the visitors encounters with Africa and gorillas, which were at the time almost mythical beasts, endows it with a aura of fantasy, and at the end, mystery. The collection opens with “The Pelican Bar,” which I read as a dark al My favorite stories in this collection straddle the line between reality and not-quite-reality in a style I have long admired, even though I am never sure what to call it (Slipstream? Magical realism? Sci-fi?). The title story adheres pretty closely to historical fact, but the visitors encounters with Africa and gorillas, which were at the time almost mythical beasts, endows it with a aura of fantasy, and at the end, mystery. The collection opens with “The Pelican Bar,” which I read as a dark allegory for parental desertion, adolescence, and the impact of victimization, with a hint of true science fiction thrown in at the end, and closes with “King Rat” a moving story of loss concluded with fairytale allusions. By far my favorite story was “The Dark,” both because of its expansive and intriguing subject matter (infectious diseases throughout history, Vietnam, children raised by wolves) and because of its narrator, desperate and by his own admission, possible unbalanced, his final words to one of the characters he encounters echoed in my head for days.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    This is a fantastic collection of stories that venture into the unseen and peripheral worlds that exist within the world around us. It's dark, sometimes funny, challenging, and always riveting in the way that good fiction makes us feel when it forces us to look at things we'd rather ignore. This is a fantastic collection of stories that venture into the unseen and peripheral worlds that exist within the world around us. It's dark, sometimes funny, challenging, and always riveting in the way that good fiction makes us feel when it forces us to look at things we'd rather ignore.

  15. 4 out of 5

    William Leight

    An interesting and well-written set of stories, some with a slight bent towards the fantastic. “At the Pelican Bar”: This is one of the most depressing stories ever written, or at least that I've read. It's concept, of a rebellious teenage girl who is sent to a "reform school" where she is essentially tortured until she turns 18 and can't be legally held any longer, is all-too-realistic, sadly. Even the fact that, in some sense, she doesn't break under what she experiences hardy makes it triumpha An interesting and well-written set of stories, some with a slight bent towards the fantastic. “At the Pelican Bar”: This is one of the most depressing stories ever written, or at least that I've read. It's concept, of a rebellious teenage girl who is sent to a "reform school" where she is essentially tortured until she turns 18 and can't be legally held any longer, is all-too-realistic, sadly. Even the fact that, in some sense, she doesn't break under what she experiences hardy makes it triumphant. “Booth’s Ghost”: A really quite touching semi-autobiographical semi-story of the family of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, focusing on his brother Edwin but generally covering the family's response to one of its members suddenly becoming a byword for evil. “The Last Worders”: An interesting story of the bond, not always affectionate, between twin sisters. The made-up city of San Margais, where the story is set, its invisible river, and its poetical civil war given the story a kind of Borges feeling. Raphael Kaplinsky doesn’t really work, though. “The Dark”: A rather weird mashup of a feral-child story, a Vietnam war story, and a disquisition on the plague, which doesn't entirely hang together. “Always”: A quite well-done cult story told by a member who accepts that she was indeed a cult but seems fairly unconcerned about that, plus some musings about immortality. “Familiar Birds”: This story doesn't have much too it, in the end: Daisy and the narrator don’t like each other but there’s not much of a story and since they’re both kids we don’t necessarily get to know them. There's a hint of the fantastic here, but that's all. “Private Grave 9”: This is a nice twist on an Agatha Christie story, featuring a mystery writer who has come to an archaeological dig to try to find materials for a murder mystery set at an archaeological dig and thus is slowly creating the conditions for such a murder. Plus, the narrator may not be quite sane. Another story with just a hint of the fantastic. “The Marianas Islands”: Mostly about the narrator’s grandmother, who was an interesting woman with a submarine, but there's not much of a story as such. “Halfway People”: A retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale "The Wild Swans", recentered on some brand-new characters. Interesting and well-done. “Standing Room Only”: JW Booth, again, but this time with a focus on the daughter of one of his co-conspirators, Anna Surrat. However, she isn’t really interesting enough to carry the story, and the time travel angle is played a little too subtly. “What I Didn’t See”: Probably the best story in the collection, a problematization of old-fashioned "Dr. Livingston, I presume" African exploration, with its negative effects on both the natives and the wildlife, and its inherent sexism. “King Rat”: The collection closes on a rather dark note, with an autobiographical (maybe?) story which isn’t really a story about a Norwegian friend of the author’s family and his family tragedy.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    With a short story collection, you have to be willing to allow for stories to which you are indifferent and measure the quality of the collection by the height of the best stories. (The same goes for collections of essays, Nine Gates by Jane Hirshfield earned my 5-star appreciation despite my indifference to over half the essays because a couple were so exemplary.) I thought "Booth's Ghost" was thoughtful, but not moving enough to remember a few weeks after reading it. Likewise "The Dark" and "Pr With a short story collection, you have to be willing to allow for stories to which you are indifferent and measure the quality of the collection by the height of the best stories. (The same goes for collections of essays, Nine Gates by Jane Hirshfield earned my 5-star appreciation despite my indifference to over half the essays because a couple were so exemplary.) I thought "Booth's Ghost" was thoughtful, but not moving enough to remember a few weeks after reading it. Likewise "The Dark" and "Private Grave 9" touched me and then slipped into a vague half-memory. "The Last Worders", "Familiar Birds", "The Marianas Islands", "Standing Room Only", and the title story "What I Didn't See" left even less than ghosts, just simple wooden blocks of description (the last one was about a Gorilla expedition, somebody got lost), without emotion attached to it. They did however, get me in the rhythm of Fowler's excellent prose, as well as the range of her curiosity. "The Pelican Bar" is much harder to forget. I vacillate between thinking it's simple SBA (Screwed By Author) in which the protag goes through a miserable experience simply because the author wants that to happen, and thinking that perhaps the story has something I should hold onto about the utter extremes of human experience and strength. A powerful but disconcerting entry. Then there were "Always" and "King Rat". The first is wonderful. About a strong believer at a cult of immortality in Santa Cruz. The location, the voice, the humor are perfect. It may not make it into my pantheon of super-5-star stories, but it is a name that I will record to remind me to revisit it periodically to re-etch it in my memory. I love how the story relies utterly on the carrying power of the first-person narrator's voice, and the voice holds it up. And "King Rat" is small and simple and sweet and sad. I don't think it's really speculative at all. But after many stories that were quite melancholic or even grim, this one sad note felt uplifting, a good change of pace and a fine way to end the collection. So 3 strong stories to hold onto in a collection of 12. That's a pretty good number for me. Even my very favorite short collections by such as Peter S. Beagle and Kij Johnson have fewer than half the stories outstanding. A solid and worthwhile read, and you might be affected by others than I was.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christian

    I found this book on my tablet. I must have bought it in a bundle at some point, and then downloaded it at another point. I have a terrible memory so it isn't that unbelievable that I could have done both those things and forgotten it. I've been getting restless lately both with life and with the books I have planned to read, so I decided to just read this. I briefly googled the author's name and saw she wrote The Jane Austen Book Club. I made some assumptions because of that. The first story in I found this book on my tablet. I must have bought it in a bundle at some point, and then downloaded it at another point. I have a terrible memory so it isn't that unbelievable that I could have done both those things and forgotten it. I've been getting restless lately both with life and with the books I have planned to read, so I decided to just read this. I briefly googled the author's name and saw she wrote The Jane Austen Book Club. I made some assumptions because of that. The first story in this collection is called "The Pelican Bar"; It tells the story of Norah, who is sent off to a special boarding school the day after her fifteenth birthday. Calling the boarding school inhumane or abusive feel like understatements, the food is inedible and often rotting, the floor is covered in insects... The girls there are punished severely if they ever say anything that is a lie; a lie is anything that doesn't crush their self esteem. Throughout the story there is a slight implication that the people who run this school aren't just figuratively monsters. The collection never gets that disturbing again, but it does continue in a similar style. The stories are wistful, melancholic and contain hints of the science-fictional, such as a poetry slam that may actually be to the death or a cult that probably doesn't grant the members immortality, but might. The fantastical hints add a dream like quality to the stories. The writing style and subject matter occasionally reminded me of a strange combination of Neil Gaiman and Kazou Ishiguro. Some of the stories will stick with me for a long time, some are already fading dreamlike leaving only an impression. Finding this collection of stories felt like making a new friend who likes to tell you stories about her life. You quickly realize that the stories all feel very implausible, but you also don't dare challenge her because if you do she may stop telling them.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Vel Veeter

    So I have only read one of Karen Joy Fowler’s books before: We are Completely Beside Ourselves. I really liked it. It’s about a family who raises a chimp alongside their other child and its various fallouts. It’s good. But I also know her as the author of The Jane Austen Book Club which could be good, but I am suspicious of any book circulating around Jane Austen and her books because there’s so many of them. And then her other books come with a variety of mixed subjects and reviews: so I can’t fi So I have only read one of Karen Joy Fowler’s books before: We are Completely Beside Ourselves. I really liked it. It’s about a family who raises a chimp alongside their other child and its various fallouts. It’s good. But I also know her as the author of The Jane Austen Book Club which could be good, but I am suspicious of any book circulating around Jane Austen and her books because there’s so many of them. And then her other books come with a variety of mixed subjects and reviews: so I can’t figure her out. Anyway, here’s what some of the stories in this collection are about: “The Pelican Bar” – About a wild teenager girl who gets high on mushrooms on her 15th birthday that she already didn’t deserve because she was on punishment already and as a result gets sent to a weird Gulf coast motel where she’s harshly punished, kept in tight control. It’s kind of like Matilda written by Harry Crews. “Booth’s Ghost” – A series of memories, journals, and other scraps written by John Wilkes Booth’s brother leading up to and surrounding the Lincoln assassination. “The Dark” – A weird story about plague, plague rats, Vietnam, and National Parks as told by a Vietnam vet looking for the girl he left behind. “Always” – The story of the last survivor of a religious cult that was brought down through pretty tame legal measures still living in the eponymous city. “Halfway People” – A little mini-epic. “Marianas Islands” – A girl helps to construct a submarine. Subamarining occurs. “Standing Room Only” – Yet another John Wilkes Booth story, this time circulating around the hotel of Mary Suratt. “What I Didn’t See” – A little safari into the jungle that might be connected to her Booker Prize nominated novel We are Completely Beside Ourselves “King Rat” – An uncanny adventure in a grocery store. So there they are. Weird assortment of tales that maybe highlight the strange fascinations that Karen Joy Fowler has with the world.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    Whoa. I should have been more prepared for this fiction collection. Each story is written in a realism that strays so subtly off the path of reality by the time you’re finished. Except once you’ve meandered off that path, you can’t seem to get back. And the conclusion is often haunting and disturbing. Another reviewer mentioned that Fowler's stories straddle the line between reality and not-quite-reality. I couldn’t say it any better. I like to judge fiction by a simple formula. Do I remember the s Whoa. I should have been more prepared for this fiction collection. Each story is written in a realism that strays so subtly off the path of reality by the time you’re finished. Except once you’ve meandered off that path, you can’t seem to get back. And the conclusion is often haunting and disturbing. Another reviewer mentioned that Fowler's stories straddle the line between reality and not-quite-reality. I couldn’t say it any better. I like to judge fiction by a simple formula. Do I remember the story a day after I read it? Does it make me feel something? In this case, I can’t forget some of the things that happen. There are some award winners in here. “Always” depicts a religious immortality commune, specifically a teen girl caught up in the hysteria. In “The Pelican Bar,” a girl is sentenced to a rehabilitative boot camp. “What I Didn’t See” has a “Heart of Darkness” feel to it; a woman travels to see the elusive silver back gorillas and attempts to shoot one to deter others from shooting the apes. And that’s not even the strange part of the story. I think the whole collection won an award. There’s two John Wilkes Booth stories. As if one wasn’t enough. “The Dark,” possibly my favorite story in the collection, connects incidents that are years and thousands of miles apart, that involve a “wild boy” in Yosemite Park and “tunnel rats” during the Vietnam War. It’s worth a read, if you are looking for a few unforgettable stories.

  20. 4 out of 5

    David Raz

    I got this book from the Super Nebula Author Showcase Humble Bundle so I was expecting something much more SF/Fantasy. That being said, I really enjoyed this collection so I am happy it was put on the collection. While I usually read in paper, this was an exception and I read it on my cellphone. I waste much time waiting for and taking meetings, so it is very nice to have a book of short stories you can read. Most stories were read over days and sometimes weeks, and the fact that the stories were I got this book from the Super Nebula Author Showcase Humble Bundle so I was expecting something much more SF/Fantasy. That being said, I really enjoyed this collection so I am happy it was put on the collection. While I usually read in paper, this was an exception and I read it on my cellphone. I waste much time waiting for and taking meetings, so it is very nice to have a book of short stories you can read. Most stories were read over days and sometimes weeks, and the fact that the stories were so evoking was critical so I will keep involved with each story. Trying to describe the stories is difficult. They are written in different forms and styles. What they all share is that the characters are very well written and passionately taken care of. The settings may be historical or even quite mundane but the characters always have distinct voices and essence. The storytelling is excellent and evocative. The stories I liked the most are those that had more of a magical or fantastical tone to them like "The Last Worders". Some of the stories were a bit slow for me, or had too little action going on, but the vast majority was excellent. I give this collection four stars our of five.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Hugo

    A cracking selection of Fowler's fable-like stories, tales of our world slightly skewed, the fantastic elements creeping in to thwart and upend a reality we thought we knew. The strongest tales, those that linger in the mind, seem to have a hard truth at their core—the reform school horror of 'The Pelican Bar'; the holidaying twins in 'The Last Worders'; the weird war tale of 'The Dark'; the cult of immortality in 'Always'; the feuding cousins of 'Familiar Birds; and the feminist jungle adventur A cracking selection of Fowler's fable-like stories, tales of our world slightly skewed, the fantastic elements creeping in to thwart and upend a reality we thought we knew. The strongest tales, those that linger in the mind, seem to have a hard truth at their core—the reform school horror of 'The Pelican Bar'; the holidaying twins in 'The Last Worders'; the weird war tale of 'The Dark'; the cult of immortality in 'Always'; the feuding cousins of 'Familiar Birds; and the feminist jungle adventure of title tale 'What I Didn't See'—beginning on familiar ground, with familiar people, but then the ground shifts, or—more disturbingly—the people do, and you're in Fowler's world, with Fowler's rules. Except there are no rules, just fantastic truths. Not a perfect collection; I didn't enjoy either of the Wilkes Booth stories, possibly down to my lack of familiarity with the history, though both seemed to offer no strong narrative to the layman, and a couple more seemed more like fragments than complete tales, but all of those mentioned are five star stories, and everything else is pretty damn close.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I revisited my review of "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" and it was no help whatsoever, but this collection reiterates what I said about Fowler's novel: her writing is exuberant. All of these stories I liked and a few I really loved, but my hands-down favorite was "Always." The thing I'd already learned was that when you remove death from your life, you change everything that's left. Take the petting zoo. Parrots are pretty long-lived compared to dogs and goats, but even they die. I'd be I revisited my review of "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" and it was no help whatsoever, but this collection reiterates what I said about Fowler's novel: her writing is exuberant. All of these stories I liked and a few I really loved, but my hands-down favorite was "Always." The thing I'd already learned was that when you remove death from your life, you change everything that's left. Take the petting zoo. Parrots are pretty long-lived compared to dogs and goats, but even they die. I'd been there less than two years when Chowder, our little foxhound, had to be put down because his kidneys failed. He wasn't the first dog I'd ever lost; he was just the first I'd lost since I wasn't dying myself. I saw my life stretching forward, all counted out in dead dogs, and I saw I couldn't manage that. I also loved the opening story,"The Pelican Bar" and the final, "Rat King."

  23. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I found this collection to be wildly imaginative and creative, but also with a twist of nostalgia and food for thought. This was my first read of Karen Joy Fowler and I am anxious to see what else she has to offer.....truly a gifted and talented writer.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alex Linschoten

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Only read 'The Pelican Bar' from this collection, a harrowing tale combining abduction, torture and a quasi-boarding school like environment. Fowler packs a lot into a seemingly short space. This story will stay with me for a while. Only read 'The Pelican Bar' from this collection, a harrowing tale combining abduction, torture and a quasi-boarding school like environment. Fowler packs a lot into a seemingly short space. This story will stay with me for a while.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ariel

    Well, that was boring. And the explicit details of spiders made it even less enjoyable since I have arachnophobia. Oh, and I'm Black; so the casual racism exhibited by the characters made it even worse than the spiders. @@ Well, that was boring. And the explicit details of spiders made it even less enjoyable since I have arachnophobia. Oh, and I'm Black; so the casual racism exhibited by the characters made it even worse than the spiders. @@

  26. 4 out of 5

    Miki

    I really struggled to finish this collection of stories. I can't say that they are not good, maybe just that they tend to be slow at first, and mostly realistic, with some touches of fantastic elements. Not my cup of tea. I really struggled to finish this collection of stories. I can't say that they are not good, maybe just that they tend to be slow at first, and mostly realistic, with some touches of fantastic elements. Not my cup of tea.

  27. 5 out of 5

    N

    The title story is pretty good. For me most of the other stories are neither fantasy nor weird nor literary.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bowie Rowan

    I love this collection so much. It's so imaginative, funny, dark, & unique. Can't wait to go back to "The Dark" and "What I Didn't See" in particular. I love this collection so much. It's so imaginative, funny, dark, & unique. Can't wait to go back to "The Dark" and "What I Didn't See" in particular.

  29. 4 out of 5

    CinnamonHopes

    Wow. There are some uncomfortable stories in this anthology. I may raise the rating on reflection. I just need some time to digest.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Holly Walrath

    A must-read for any Karen Joy Fowler fan. These stories are wild and unexpected. Fowler is an expert of the short story form.

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