The Emerald Light in the Air.
The Emerald Light in the Air
By Donald Antrim
A MacArthur Fellow and a regular contributor to the New Yorker, Donald Antrim has written three novels, including PEN Faulkner Award finalist The Hundred Brothers (1998), and a memoir. This is his first collection of short stories.
THE STORY: These seven previously published stories scrutinize men hopelessly lost in the middle of their lives. In "An Actor Prepares," college drama professor Reginald Barry stages an off-the-wall, sexually explicit production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Nights Dream--with disastrous results. Christopher, a gloomy alcoholic, decides to take a chance on love--or maybe just sympathy--with a quirky aspiring painter in "Solace," and a man's day goes from bad to worse in "Another Manhattan" when he stops to buy flowers for his wife and finds himself smitten with a fetching young florist. In each story, men struggle with marital discord, infidelity, loneliness, addiction, failure, financial crisis, and loss in darkly comic ways.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 176 pages. $22. ISBN: 9780374280932
Minneapolis Star Tribune ****1/2
"Plain and simple: Antrim has no equals in contemporary letters. His voice is inimitable, his stories unique, his deadpan delivery uncannily funny and sad. Like the late Donald Barthelme, he'll often make you laugh, then cry, then cringe, and sometimes all at once." JOSH COOK
Los Angeles Times ****1/2
"Think of Donald Barthelme crossed with Don DeLillo: black humor with an existential edge. In the context of The Emerald Light in the Air, however, it's also something of an oblique strategy, a bit of sleight-of-hand or misdirection that disguises the real concerns of the collection as a way of catching us off our guard. I don't mean to frame this as a criticism; in fact, it's one of the most exhilarating aspects of the book, that it takes us in unexpected directions, moving from the outlandish to the intimate with the seamlessness of a single breath." DAVID L. ULIN
NY Times Book Review ****
"Although it's not entirely successful, 'An Actor Prepares' is still far better--more vital and fun to read--than the vast majority of stories one comes across.... What's lost in madcap comedy is made up for in other ways: close observation, humor more arch than antic, psychological insight and a mature sensibility." ADELLE WALDMAN
New York Times ***1/2
"The bad news about The Emerald Light in the air is that it's decidedly hit and miss.... The good news about The emerald Light in the air is that it contains two masterpieces of the short story form, stories I hope are anthologized until anthologizing ends in fire or ice. These tent poles are 'An Actor Prepares' and 'Another Manhattan."' DWIGHT GARNER
Antrim veers between madcap comedy and unflinching realism in these stories, but all, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, are "strange in true-to-life depictions of the psyche unhinged. Claustrophobic, hypnotic, syntactically dazzling, and then some." Nevertheless, some critics preferred the former style and others the latter, each citing the virtues of their personal favorites.
It's likely that readers will also fall into one of the two camps: some will revel in certain characters' outrageous slapstick antics, and others will prefer the devastating emotional edge interlaced with sly humor in Antrim's more downto-earth fiction. Suffice it to say that there is something here for every reader. Antrim's unique deadpan prose delivers line after viciously comic line, while his shrewdly observed characters continually surprise and unnerve.
A timeless book to be read by all
One of the best of its genre
Enjoyable, particularly for fans of the genre
Some problems, approach with caution
Not worth your time