Spectacle

Susan Steinberg, Author
Susan Steinberg. Graywolf, $14 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-55597-631-6
Reviewed on: 10/29/2012
Release date: 01/08/2013
Ebook - 152 pages - 978-1-55597-064-2
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Steinberg’s newest collection defies category. The book could be called “linked short stories,” but unlike other collections that attempt this, the whole here is much, much greater than the sum of its parts. Narrated entirely by women whose voices merge, divide, recur, and dissipate into one another, it feels like a solid statement, novelistic in scope and ambition. Steinberg (Hydroplane) is a maestro of stylistic innovation, conducting orbits of narrative and motif, coaxing meaning and music from each line. In the opener, “Superstar,” a woman steals a car stereo from a man who is the center of her conflicted infatuation. There are echoes of this voice in the Pushcart-winning “Cowboys” in a woman’s blunt thought processes as she considers taking her father off life support. In both stories, sentences most often stand alone as paragraphs, creating an urgent and fiercely propelled narrative. In “Underthings” a woman rationalizes her boyfriend’s physical abuse into an accident, while in “Signifier” the narrator observes herself sleeping with her lover’s friend: “I wish I could give you a climactic moment. But there is no climactic moment in this. There is no such thing here as climactic. In a story about a hike, there is only circling around and around.” What one realizes as the collection continues is, despite the stylistic differences between stories, at the center of each is the same unnamed woman, constantly set against male counterparts: abusive or aloof boyfriends, a controlling and damaged father, a hostile brother. Steinberg subverts the feminist critique of women identified only by their male-counterparts and delivers a multifaceted female protagonist who whispers her secrets, shouts her confusions, and rends her relationships to find some meaning in the wreckage. With its literary inventions and sharp storytelling, this is a masterpiece of contemporary short fiction. (Jan.)
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