Creative Types

Tom Bissell. Pantheon, $25.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4915-6
The seven stories in Bissell’s droll, thoughtful collection (after the travelogue Apostle) portray artistic people in the midst of unfortunate circumstances, often due to their own actions. After a man confronts a Roman tour guide during a honeymoon trip in “A Bridge Under Water,” his wife hears the “sound of hope collapsing.” Things don’t fare much better in the title story when married couple Reuben and Bren hire Haley, a female escort. The three begin fooling around until Reuben kills the mood by criticizing Haley’s Cla$$y Lady tattoo. Haley responds with a long story about an old friend she got the tattoo with, preserving her dignity as the couple’s problems are revealed. Varying forms of comeuppance emerge for former schoolyard bully–turned–magazine editor in the effective though meandering “Punishment,” and for a former lawyer for the Justice Department, accused of war crimes overseas for his advocacy of torture during the Iraq War in “The Fifth Category.” “The Hack” sharply satirizes the entertainment industry, as an assistant for James Franco navigates a whirlwind of demands during Franco’s SNL appearance. Each story demonstrates Bissell’s talent for smooth, sparkling prose, arresting descriptions (a sweaty body smelled like “skin underneath a not-recent bandage”), and vivid characterization. Desperate, downtrodden, and self-absorbed, the protagonists are thoroughly human, and Bissell consistently transforms the reader’s voyeuristic pleasure into unexpected sympathy. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 07/24/2020
Release date: 03/23/2021
Genre: Fiction
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