Entertainment & the Arts: Monday, May 02, 2005

“The Evil B. B. Chow” by Steve Almond

By Mark Lindquist
Special to The Seattle Times

“I liked the guy. … But there was something desperate in his tone, which made me suspect he hadn’t really decided who he was, that he hoped all his ideas might make him someone.”

This is from one of Steve Almond’s stories with an unprintable title, and it well describes most of his characters: clever thinkers who might analyze too much and try too hard, but who reach forgiveness and epiphanies for their efforts.

I loved these people.

Almond’s first collection of stories, “My Life in Heavy Metal,” was a remarkably smart and hip debut. He followed this with “Candyfreak,” a nonfiction best seller about a candyfreak, himself. I couldn’t get past the first chapter, but I guess a guy has to make a living.

I don’t know if aspiring writers gain much from writing programs, but apparently the instructors can. Almond teaches creative writing at Boston College and he has an amazing grasp of the confusion and splendor of collegiate life, and how it contrasts with — and resembles — the confusion and splendor of real life 10 to 20 years later.

This collection of hits includes several standouts, including “Larsen’s Novel,” a laugh-out-loud look at a dentist’s first novel, and “Appropriate Sex,” where a college writing instructor has a sexually-charged encounter with a student “who viewed her sexuality as a bright new user option only obscurely related to her heart.”

Most of the stories overtly involve sex, often focusing on the most awkward results of sexual impulses, but Almond consistently finds something moving and resonant in even the clumsiest assignation. People meet, struggle with intimacy and then rejoin the bright world wiser.

I’m glad Almond has returned to what appears to be his true love. With the possible exception of masters such as Richard Ford, nobody today is writing better short fiction.


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