The title story of this collection of 39 short, odd, funny, disturbing stories features a burned-out ESL instructor who drives her co-worker, the office assistant, to a dance. When the assistant falls down a well during a pit stop, the instructor threatens to abandon her if she doesn’t help one of the instructor’s students—a gifted musician whose English is terrible—receive a passing grade on his end-of-semester standardized test. The instructor interrupts her narrative three times to discuss It’s a Wonderful Life. In “Voltaire Night,” students from adult education evening classes compete at telling the worst thing that ever happened to them. Travel tales include “Stay Where You Are,” in which a lone rebel takes a tourist couple hostage, and “Welcome,” about a foreigner who has outstayed her welcome. Unferth’s (Minor Robberies) stories can be as short as one paragraph and often lack plot, names, or segues. One character is called simply “Vice President of Pretzels,” which is all that’s needed to understand that he won’t be any help to his customer. “37 Seconds” consists of a list of fleeting impressions that add up to a man and a woman having an argument. Both traditionally told stories like “Pet” and ingeniously structured pieces like “An Opera Season” and “Abandon Normal Instruments” showcase Unferth’s razor-sharp conversational prose and idiosyncratic blend of normal and weird, idealistic and disillusioned. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/23/2017 Release date: 03/21/2017 Genre: Fiction
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