Monday, August 16, 2010

The Surf Guru

The Surf Guru -- Dorst's acclaimed debut, Alive in Necropolis, folded sci-fi, horror, and noir elements into a layered coming-of-age story, and a similar mix of lively imagination and love of craft are on display in this excellent collection. "Splitters" hilariously recreates a scholarly treatise, replete with bloated footnotes and period photographs, by a biologist unloading personal grudges upon colleagues. In the title story, dozens of short vignettes have the effect of snapshots or glimpses that the reader is challenged to piece together. A similar method is used, but to a grander effect, in "Twelve Portraits of Dr. Gauchet," which borrows its title from a Van Gogh painting and depicts the life of the famous artist's physician. The narrative in the poignant and surprisingly suspenseful "Dinaburg's Cake" coils in the obsessive mind of its protagonist, a cake maker in pursuit of a lost client with whom she imagines a significant connection. Whether it's the campaign adviser shackled to a loser in "The Candidate in Bloom" or the hapless dreamers in "Vikings" and "What Is Mine Will Know My Face," the humanity in Dorst's characters can break a reader's heart.

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