You Have a Friend In 10A by Maggie Shipstead

The cover of this book really grabbed me. I know, I know. But hey, I like it, what can I say? I’m generally more of a fan of novels than short stories, but this is the second story collection I’ve read and really enjoyed recently. Maybe the winds are changing.

I kept thinking, as I read, that the book could be subtitled “A Zoology of Terrible Men.” Not uniformly, and not in an obvious or gimmicky way. But so many of the stories have as one major pole a man just being incredibly shitty in one way or another. And it’s engaging, because it’s in both expected and unexpected ways, in a multitude of contexts, with varying effects.

I also picked up some echoes of Great Circle — especially in the two that involved actresses. That was sort of interesting. There’s the one about a writer reflecting on his MFA workshop on the occasion of the publication of his first book, and I wanted to groan and hate it, but it was such a perfect mix of satire and insight (and it turned out to be more meta than it seemed at first) that I had to grudgingly admire it. Even though, in a book full of terrible men, that narrator might have been the worst.

I did some thinking (and talking with my friend and former colleague Lisa) about story collections and what makes them work as collections rather than just being a pile of stories. These were written and collected over a huge span of time, and I’m undecided on whether it really hung together. I think so–I think there’s a sensibility that runs through the whole thing, and each one is distinct enough that it doesn’t feel like there’s a cohesive whole with a few odd stories out. They’re just each sui generis. But whatever the state of the entire collection, I was certainly engaged and entertained, and read it quickly and happily.

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