You have to just love that Michael Chabon supposedly once said, "I scan the tables of contents of magazines, looking for Antonya Nelson's name, hoping that she has decided to bless us again." And evidently she has, with her latest, a collection of stories, "Funny Once". Actually nine stories and a novella to be precise.
In this collection the prolific short story writer heads to the "wide open spaces" of Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. And gives us in our very palms characters that are so twisted, so hurt and broken, questioning, believing, losing their minds, themselves and their total worlds. We eagerly take them, like beggars with a bowl empty and desperate. She feeds us with these people that we recognize, these people that wake us up in the middle of the night and show us who we really are. That's the Nelson skill, and it's why The New Yorker loves her so.
"Life: A series of lessons you don't want to learn"
In "Soldier's Joy" Nelson shows off what would happened if you made a very different choice that you nearly made, but didn't. In "First Husband" she ventures into family dynamics that feel both freeing and awful. In "Winter in Yalta" friendships are proved and re-revealed with beautiful snare sadness. In "The Village" old age and fatherly relations are given air. "Three Wishes" brings the humor in, and Nelson can be very very funny. "Chapter Two" is like the rest of the book - filled with a lot of booze.
What makes it interesting is that somehow people in the novel feels like they could be the same people in every story. Just variants of themselves -- somehow connected to each other and tied with a tight elastic band that once held hair but now is used for gathering papers...the father in one, might be the heroine in another. And aren't we all just playing versions of ourselves in this troubadour disarray of a life.