"American Innovations" by Rivka Galchen

American Innovations is novelist Rivka Galchen’s first collection of short stories, a follow-up to her successful debut novel Atmospheric Disturbances.  A collection of stories that are slightly eccentric with a tinge of the supernatural, this book deals with the complexities of life with average people in unique situations.

A few of my favourites:

Once An Empire - a woman returns home late one night to watch all of her furniture climbing out the window.

The Lost Order - a woman receives a telephone call from a man trying to order Chinese food but doesn’t tell the man that she is not the restaurant.  This inability to tell the truth isn’t just with this stranger though.

Wild Berry Blue - the story of a 9 year old girl who develops her first feelings of love for a junkie who works at McDonalds.

Something I didn’t know about this collection because I was reading an e-copy and didn’t read the book jacket :

The tales in this groundbreaking collection are secretly in conversation with canonical stories, reimagined from the perspective of female characters. Just as Wallace Stevens’s “Anecdote of the Jar” responds to John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” Galchen’s “The Lost Order” covertly recapitulates James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” while “The Region of Unlikeness” is a smoky and playful mirror to Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Aleph.” The title story, “American Innovations,” revisits Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose.”  

Not that this would have made a difference to me as I have not read those stories, an interesting idea though.

There are definitely stronger and weaker stories in this collection, many people agree that the first half is stronger than the second.  And while I enjoyed reading this book, I found it to be a little middle of the road.  I honestly think that for me, it was because I had just finished reading another short story collection that blew me away.  I wonder how different it would have been for me if I hadn’t read the books back to back.  But I do think this would have left me feeling the same way I usually do after reading short stories, wanting just a little bit more.

I wish I could find more to write about this book but it has left me with not much to say about it, good or bad.


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