As I promised, I’m coming to the end of the reviews I had accumulated, but I had a couple I had only shared on Lit World Interviews that I wanted to share here. Today’s, not only because of the book but also because the author kindly offered me a mini-interview.
Title: what if I got down on my knees
Author: Tony Rauch
Published: Whistling Shade Press; 1 edition (May 31, 2015)
Genre: Literary Fiction/Short stories
what if i got down on my knees? presents romantic misadventures and entanglements of absurd, whimsical, existential longing, featuring discovery, secrets, identity, escape, strange happenings, endurance, regret, and hope. The stories are little postcards from the lonely regions of the human heart.
These tales of wonder are about people trying to find meaning and a place in an indifferent world, and their discoveries, revelations, secrets, failures, struggles, connections, and odd encounters along the way—
—two unemployed men steal dogs and run them through buildings around town.
—a man goes on what turns into the worst date in recorded history.
—you are asked to baby-sit for a neighbor, only to find a giant baby waiting for you.
—a man comes home to find his entire yard and home paved over by a long lost rival.
—a clerk at a used record store finds a man has passed away on one of the couches.
—some young adults go into the basement to get sad, in order to impress girls.
—a stranger extracts a baby from a man waiting for the bus.
With themes of longing, fragility, uncertainty, impermanence, regret, the mysteries hidden in everyday life, discovery, ennui, loneliness, irresponsible behavior, confusion, change, identity, and absurd situations, Tony Rauch is a worthy successor to the artistry and absurdism of Donald Barthelme and Steve Martin.
Body of review:
I received a copy of this novel from the author and I voluntarily review it for Lit World Interviews.
Short stories are an acquired taste. We might think a short read is perfect because we are always rushing and don’t have a lot of time, but sometimes we might feel disappointed when the story ends and we’ve invested time and, in the best of cases, emotions only to have to get to know some new characters after a few pages. Of course, not all short stories are born equal. And this collection of short stories by Tony Rauch proves the point.
Some of the short stories in this collection are whimsical (surreal) and might leave you scratching your head (or looking up to the sky searching for… No spoilers) , some are vignettes illustrating the lives of people who might appear content with their lives at a superficial level, but whose thoughts and worries run deeper than it seems, many are about lonely people wondering about others and trying to connect (in some occasions with hilarious consequences), some are about pretending to be something or somebody else, about growing up, about growing old, about moving on or remembering the past…
The quality of the writing is superb, and the first person narratives cleverly capture the speech and rhythms of the characters, who sometimes are talking to others, sometimes conducting an internal monologue with themselves, or even writing a story. From young kids trying to impress their friends to old men dying, from people contemplating a new relationship to others letting go, these few pages run the whole gamut of experiences and emotions.
To give you some examples:
His skin appeared two sizes too tight for his body, stiff and washed out, like he’d gotten it secondhand, or found it in an alley late at night.
His suit is mythical—straight, lean, long, pure, giving, musical, thoughtful, caring, dynamic, cosmopolitan, unselfish, strong, industrious, and nostalgic for his mother, her peanut butter cookies, and snowy Christmas mornings.
“And what would someone do with a dream of mine? Where would you keep it?”
“I’d stretch it out to create a sail, and then use it to float off to who knows where,” I advise.
Some of the stories are nostalgic and melancholy, but there are great comedic moments, ranging from slapstick to joyful turns of phrase (and oh, a so very satisfying revenge story). Another example I highlighted:
Eventually, he turned up in over 3000 cans of a popular brand of tuna. A horrible fate to be sure, and amplified by the fact that the guy was notoriously reputed to detest tuna.
I won’t tell you which stories I liked the most as I’d find it difficult. I checked the reviews, and on reading the comments when the reviewers mentioned a story or another I’d agree with them. So… Just go and read them and enjoy their variety.
What the book is about: Many things: growing up, life, dreams, realities, loneliness, relationships, friendship, revenge, writing…
Book Highlights: The quality of the writing and the very distinct characters and voices. The whimsical sense of humour.
Challenges of the book: Sometimes with the electronic version I wasn’t clear when I had moved from one story to another. The titles of the individual stories and the different parts weren’t always easy to tell apart.
Although the book is not long, I think it is best taken slowly and savouring the quality of the writing, rather than rushing to get to the end of the story. It is not a book to be read in a hurry.
What do you get from it: Beautiful writing, stories that make you think and a few laughs.
What I would have changed if anything: As I mentioned perhaps change the size of the titles or the formatting (in the digital version) to make the divisions clearer.
Who Would I recommend this book to?: To readers who enjoy language and a mood more than heavily plotted stories (although there are some great ones too). And to writers who are considering writing short stories, or just keen on exploring the many ways characterization works.
Realistic Characterization: 4.5/5
Made Me Think: 4/5
Overall enjoyment: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Buy it at:
Format & Pricing:
And now, I asked a few questions to the author:
People have less and less time these days and short forms of writing are becoming more and more popular. From flash-fiction to microfiction and even stories told in Tweets, it’s all about brevity. Of course, the short story has a long tradition, but what is for you a short story? And what makes it (so far) your preferred choice when writing? –
For me a short story is anything that conveys a feeling, or an event, or that sets up an event that may then spring forward. It does not have to have a beginning or an ending. I like story starters, that is a written piece that poses a situation or premise, and then you have to imagine various outcomes. But the premise is so interesting it creates that zing in your brain and gets you thinking. That to me is a good story: anything that kick-starts that zing in your imagination and gets you thinking on a different track or about various possibilities.
I prefer the short form because I don’t need a lot of useless background info that longer work sometimes gets bogged down in. I don’t have a lot of free time, so the short form is good for getting ideas down. I have a lot of different ideas, so the short form works well in sorting them into more organized paradigms.
Who are your favourite writers, in general, and writers of short stories (if they aren’t the same ones)? Why? What have you learned from them? –
Favorite authors, influences: Anyone interesting, imaginative, and concise. Anyone who makes you think.
Mostly I like short stories as they get to the point quickly. The books that really inspired me are mostly imaginative story collections because they were exciting and new and you never knew what was going to happen next in them. Also, they were brief, which made them memorable and easily digestible.
I like strange or absurd adventures that are well crafted and have a meaning to them, and sci fi as it offers ideas. Reading these types of writers is like taking mini adventures that I could not experience otherwise in the limitations of my actual life –
Donald Barthelme, J.D. Salinger, Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Charles Bukowski, Leonard Michaels (murderers), Mark Twain, James Thurber, Antoine de Saint Exupery (the little prince), Dr. Seuss (cool illustrations), Roald Dahl, Steve Martin (cruel shoes), W.P. Kinsella (the alligator report), Jim Heynen (the man who kept cigars in his cap), Don Delillo.
Barry Yourgrau, Mark Leyner, Adrienne Clasky (from the floodlands), Lydia Davis (Samuel Johnson is indignant), Etgar Keret, Stacey Richter, George Singleton, James Tate (Return to the city of white donkeys), Thom Jones, Italo Calvino, Stephen-Paul Martin, Will Self, Denis Johnson (Jesus’ son), David Gilbert (I shot the hairdresser), David Sedaris, Paul Di Filippo, D. Harlan Wilson, Andersen Prunty.
Science fiction from the 40s, 50s, and 60s:
Rod Serling, L. Sprague De Camp, Ray Bradbury, Phillip K. Dick, Aurthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Charles Beaumont, Ursula K. Le Guin, Douglas Adams (an 80’s writer), etc.
Many writers read this blog. I subscribe to the advice that one should read in order to improve one’s writing. I know it will be a difficult choice, but any stories in particular that have had an impact on you or have increased your understanding of the form?
Yes, many – see the list of authors above. One thing I look for is that buzz or zing when they convey a feeling or present something I hadn’t ever seen before. For example, I like that F. Scott Fitzgerald story “Winter dreams” because in it the character changes, or his feelings for someone changes. I like that arc, that sense of change the character goes through in a story. That story presents a loss, and the character’s feelings about that change and loss.
Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Yes, it is: https://trauch.wordpress.com/
You can find book information and story samples on that bad boy of rock and roll.
If you know of any good publishers looking for arty story collections, please let them know about me. I’m always looking for good publishers. A lot of places don’t publish single author story collections.
Thank you for your time.
Thanks very much to Tony Rauch for his book and for answering my questions, thanks to you for reading, and don’t forget to like, share, comment, and CLICK!
Olga Núñez Miret