Saturday, February 05, 2011


Forthcoming from Penguin Canada in April, ZsuZsi Gartner's new collection of short stories is as smart, satiric, playful and wicked as her previously acclaimed and bestselling book ALL THE ANXIOUS GIRLS ON EARTH. In BETTER LIVING THROUGH PLASTIC EXPLOSIVES (perhaps the most provocative title of 2011), Gartner opens with a gentle Horatian approach in the Darwinian "Summer of the Flesh Eater" where unisex-named Kim may have contemplated a "crack wax" during his spa day and and we learn alongside the nosey neighbours that "Boys who can burp the Lord's Prayer at age eight retain the ability, like a vestigial limb flaring to life, well into their thirties."

Each story has a shadow self and with precision Gartner deftly reveals the dark potential in us all, especially in "Investment Results May Vary," and her Juvenalian take on adoption in "The Adopted Chinese Daughters' Rebellion," which was for me the most heart-breaking piece in the collection.

What impressed me in each of the stories is Gartner's remarkable talent for unique analogies. Witness a "tortoise, heavy lidded and benign...a little like Sinatra in his later years." Or in "Floating Like a Goat," where a mother kvetches in a missive to her daughter's uncreative art teacher and suggests that synesthesia may well be an antidote: " 'Your voice is damaged swimwear,' I told a stranger waiting for the bus.....'You sound like fresh cement,' I said to a waitress midway through her recitation of the daily specials."

Above all Gartner is an accomplished social satirist. Don't be surprised if you don't like what you see when she holds the mirror up to your face for reflection.

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