Monday, October 14, 2013

Review: Happy Rock by Matthew Simmons

I have spent every summer of my entire life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This does not make me a native. But, after more than four decades, it does make me very familiar with the area and the people who live in it. I have known them and they have known me for decades so despite the fact that short stories are not my favorite format, I was very excited to find Matthew Simmons' collection of short stories set in my beloved UP. And having read glowing reviews of it, I was hoping to have a great book to recommend to my fellow Yooper readers. Unfortunately, this didn't happen.

Simmons has written a collection of tales about misfits and losers. His characters in most of the stories are grotesques. Some of the stories have fantastical premises and yet they still come off as merely sad and surreal. There is little or none of that which makes the Upper Peninsula and its inhabitants unique, no sense of people or place, instead the stories could be set anywhere people continue to live tiny, little, circumscribed lives in their parents' basements. Each of the main characters in his stories is alone, even when surrounded by others, and their lives are disappointing and unsatisfying to them and, frankly, to read about as well. Oftentimes there are some stories in each collection that outshine others. In this collection, they are all fairly equally strange, mildly disturbing, emotionally desolate, and reeking of pretentiously experimental MFA program writing. Now, in the interest of fairness, every other review I've read of this slight collection has been rapturous but I have to admit that I read it (while sitting in the UP no less) with my nose wrinkled as I looked about me and sighed in dismay at the difference between what I wanted to have in my hands and what I actually did have in my hands.

If you read it, may your experience be better.

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