Zsuzsi Gartner’s writing is witty, wry, satirical, and very intelligent. In her book of short stories, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, Gartner scrutinizes everyone. From the real estate agent in her Hummer to the homeless person getting publicly funded plastic surgery. Set in city similar to Vancouver (or Vancouver on the verge of the apocalypse) and suburbs riddled with cul-de-sacs, the stories vary from science fiction to simply satirical fiction.
From an emerging master of short fiction and one of Canada’s most distinctive voices, a collection of stories as heartbreaking as those of Lorrie Moore and as hilariously off-kilter as something out of McSweeney’s.
In Better Living through Plastic Explosives, Zsuzsi Gartner delivers a powerful second dose of the lacerating satire that marked her acclaimed debut, All the Anxious Girls on Earth, but with even greater depth and darker humour. Whether she casts her eye on evolution and modern manhood when an upscale cul-de-sac is thrown into chaos after a redneck moves into the neighbourhood, international adoption, war photography, real estate, the movie industry, motivational speakers, or terrorism, Gartner filets the righteous and the ridiculous with dexterity in equal, glorious measure.
These stories ruthlessly expose our most secret desires, and allow us to snort with laughter at the grotesque world we’d live in if we all got what we wanted.
From the publisher, Hamish Hamilton (imprint of Penguin Books)
I enjoyed the stories but often felt like I needed to read one at a time to properly absorb Gartner’s social commentary; thus it took me nearly three weeks to read this book and another two to write a review. As is the case with most short story collection, I didn’t enjoy every story but some really resonated with me. Some stories felt a little too obscure to follow and I often felt like I was missing the point, hidden too deeply behind wacky caricatures.
The stories have an overall theme of ‘plastic’ or ‘artificial’ relating to people’s current obsession with money, technology and the digital experience. Characters are absorbed by email, iPods, texting, fancy cars and gigantic homes. Contrasted by the luscious West Coast surroundings, Gartner shows how alien and obtuse these obsessions are. Gartner’s cultural critique is relentless, her writing sharp and style unconventional.
- Listen to Summer of the Flesh Eater (excerpt from the book)
- Review in the National Post
- Review from Pickle Me This (CanLit book blogger)
- Review in Quill & Quire
- Review from Bella’s Bookshelves (I feel pretty similarly)
Full disclosure: I read an ARC that we received at the office last year.