The Bigness of the World
By: Lori Ostlund
Format/Source: eARC courtesy of the publishers via NetGalley
In Lori Ostlund’s award-winning debut collection, people seeking escape from situations at home venture out into a world that they find is just as complicated and troubled as the one they left behind.
In prose highlighted by both satire and poignant observation, The Bigness of the World contains characters that represent a different sort of everyman—men and women who poke fun at ideological rigidity while holding fast to good grammar and manners, people seeking connections in a world that seems increasingly foreign. In “Upon Completion of Baldness,” a young woman shaves her head for a part in a movie in Hong Kong that will help her escape life with her lover in Albuquerque. In “All Boy,” a young logophile encounters the limits of language when he finds he prefers the comfort of a dark closet over the struggle to make friends at school. In “Dr. Deneau’s Punishment,” a math teacher leaving New York for Minnesota as a means of punishing himself engages in an unsettling method of discipline. In “Bed Death,” a couple travels Malaysia to teach only to find their relationship crumbling as they are accepted in their new environment. And in “Idyllic Little Bali,” a group of Americans gather around a pool in Java to discuss their brushes with fame and end up witnessing a man’s fatal flight from his wife.
If you’ve been following my blog posts and book reviews regularly this year, you may have noticed that I’ve been reading a lot more short stories. Maybe it’s all of the Alice Munro stories I’ve been reading (see author tag), maybe it’s my own writings lately, but I’ve added short story collections to my list of titles to be on the lookout for. This book was one such example; I’ve never read anything by this author but the premise sounded very interesting. I was approved an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book will be available on 16 February 2016.
The Bigness of the World was an interesting collection of stories capturing those fleeting moments of life. It’s hard to explain, many of these stories may not seem out of the ordinary or may happen to anyone at one point or another within a person’s week, and some of these stories may not seem to have a particular end goal in mind, but the reader is swept along following the characters’ experiences: moments of revelation, of things falling apart, of uncertainty or confusion. It’s interesting, and the author did a wonderful job in really capturing these characters’ experiences, whether the protagonist is young or old, man or woman.
Like any short story collection, there’s going to stories that you either like or you don’t. This collection kept my interest enough, but I would have to say my favourites were “The Bigness of the World” (I felt for the young characters and that gap between what’s going on amongst the adults and how they understand everything that’s happening to them), “Bed Death” (interesting in the way the relationship drifted apart without the narrator really realising it), “Talking Fowl With My Father” (a very odd tale–the father was quite an eccentric character–but I couldn’t help but follow along), “Upon Completion of Baldness” (similar to “Bed Death” only the narrator was focusing much on the baldness of her girlfriend as a sort of anchor to her thoughts and the things in their lives that were spiraling out of control without her realising it), and “All Boy” (aww, Harold).
The Bigness of the World overall was an interesting read and impressive collection. The author had a wonderful way of capturing the ebbs of everyday life and really relling a story out of them, whether they be about relationships falling apart or misconceptions about what’s going on around these characters. I would recommend this book to readers of contemporary fiction and readers looking to diversify their readings/books with LGBQT elements.