I read this over a couple of sleepless nights in the old apartment. I wanted something that would put me to sleep after giving my brain something to chew on. McSweeney’s 18 is a small, brown paperback with fourteen stories in it.
Since it has been very, very long since I read this thing, I can’t promise a responsible review, but I will tell you about the few stories I remember.
The first story in the book, “The Stepfather” by Chris Adrian, is about a huge family of children, all named with “C” names and all fathered by one of an ever-expanding group of men that their mother becomes romantically involved with. Each time a new one arrives at their home, he becomes the new stepfather. One of the kids, (I keep saying ‘kids’ but the characters range in age from toddler to grown-ass man), dies and his death tears through the family like one would expect. After the brother dies, in a horrific way that worms around in the brain, each of the children reverts to self destructive behaviors (bulimia, S&M porn-making, being timid, dating abusers, being abusive) that show Adrian playing, enjoying writing outrageous things for their own sake. Surprisingly, this does little to distract from the solemnity of the story when a line like this precedes it: “How stupid, after all, to think that something like that could improve a family. Better and more reasonable to believe what was easier, and more sensible, that it was a ruination that would reflect through time to wreak further and greater ruin, that every one of Calvin’s hundred’s of wounds would reach forward to be born again into the declining future." While “The Stepfather” is gimmicky and not amazing, I liked it, behind all the alliteration and sexual proclivities of the various family members, there is a somewhat sweet story about siblings and how they work.
“My Hustlers” by Edmund White was a giant waste of time. An old man looking back on his sexual development, and the the cocks he has bought. BORING.
“Happiness Reminders” by Rachel Haley Himmelheber is an experiment in keeping a lot from the reader and slowly winding threads of story together into a “we are all connected, ain’t we” potholder. I liked it, but it wasn’t entirely successful.
“Bad Habits” by Joyce Carol Oates is a tense, funny, nasty story about child murder from a child’s point of view. It is not as vicious as some of her recent, horror-like short stories in the VQR have been, but very compelling anyway. I always thought I didn’t like her stuff, but her recent short stories blow me away more often than not. So creepy!
Deb Olin Unferth’s “Deb Olin Unferth” is too silly.
The rest I don’t really remember. I think I like all of them to varying degrees, so late at night. That is how I always feel about Mc Sweeney’s anthologies. They are fun to read, but the stories don’t quite make it. All about the journey and what what this n that. Still, it is disappointing upon reflection.