STARRED REVIEW
May 02, 2017

Ferris’ fateful tales

By Joshua Ferris

Joshua Ferris has published three brilliant novels, each focusing on the difficulty and dark comedy of our interactions with each other in the 21st century. In The Dinner Party, he has gathered his short stories from the past decade into a single volume.

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Joshua Ferris has published three brilliant novels, each focusing on the difficulty and dark comedy of our interactions with each other in the 21st century. In The Dinner Party, he has gathered his short stories from the past decade into a single volume.

Throughout these 11 stories, the range of settings and characters makes for a recurring sense of surprise: There is a New York City reimagined as a multiverse of sliding subway doors; the geriatric purgatory of Florida redeemed by fatal kindness; a Prague scarier than the one Kafka imagined; and a trailer parked somewhere in the Wal-Mart kingdom of the South, the site of a country song sung in reverse (you get your girl back, or your truck, or your life).

One of the best stories, “The Pilot” (first published in The New Yorker), diagnoses the decline and fall of a hopeful television writer in Los Angeles, who thinks he “needs a new pair of eyes” for the script of his pilot. What Leonard really needs is the sanity that eludes him and his entire generation of would-be auteurs. Readers may find themselves returning to the final three paragraphs over and over again, to revisit their beauty, tragedy and humor.

Reading a collection of short stories by an emerging master of the form is one of the great literary pleasures, especially when the writer treats them as a set of variations on a powerful theme. A steady ground bass pulses through all of Ferris’ narratives: the fatefulness of our lives, the uncanny and often hilarious (and even sometimes cruel, devastatingly so in the title story) ways in which our fragile hearts and massive egos determine our destinies. If this theme goes back to Sophocles, it also goes fast forward, right into our perplexed, all-too-modern souls.

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The Dinner Party

The Dinner Party

By Joshua Ferris
Little, Brown
ISBN 9780316465953

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