October 24, 2011

Jack of all genres

By Daniel Nayeri
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There's been a lot of talk lately about "literary" novelists turning their pens to writing genre fiction, from crime procedurals to zombie thrillers to vampire novels. Perhaps what we're seeing is not just a rediscovery but a reinvention of these classic genres, as writers find new ways to explore big themes in creative, often unexpected places.

Daniel Nayeri seems to have caught this playful mood in his new collection of novellas, Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow. Here he provides his own whimsical take on not just one but four different genres. In the first novella, a scarecrow sheriff desperately tries to protect his home turf—a farm that grows toys—from unimaginable dangers. In the second (reminiscent in some ways of Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story), Nayeri imagines a not-too-distant future in which the line between "virtual" and "reality" may be permanently blurred. In the third, Wish Police detectives try to apprehend a deadly wish before it can reach its target. And in the final story, a surprisingly sweet and romantic novella, Death narrates the story of star-crossed lovers who have more than their fair share of brushes with Death.

Nayeri's voice is chameleon-like, easily adapting to the conventions and expectations of each genre without losing a bit of its edge or its wit. Although it might be easy to dismiss his latest project as an experiment or an exercise, it's far more than that, as Nayeri thoughtfully stretches the boundaries of each genre to include considerations of such universal topics as loyalty and sacrifice, hope and betrayal, love and loss. Straw House is a delightful amalgam of the high and the low, the silly and the sublime.

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