The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

tsar love techno cover

 

Normally, I’m not a huge short story fan. In fact, in the years that I’ve been reading The New Yorker, I have been known to pass up the fiction section entirely. Of course, the exception to this is anything by Sloane Crosley (except her latest book– woof).

I was intrigued when I heard about Anthony Marra’s newest short story collection, The Tsar of Love and Techno.  I loved the image of a mixtape on the cover, foreshadowing the common “soundtrack” that strings together the vignettes of characters through the former USSR territories.

The stories take place from the 1930s-2000s, told from different perspectives with each story. Too long to be chapters, too short to be novellas, too separate to be one novel. To say too much about the plot, I feel, would give it away. Trust that the complexities of Soviet history, blended with timeless human struggles with relationships, make for a wonderfully long-lasting book hangover.

My favorite part of the whole book is how each story links back to characters who narrated stories earlier in the book. It’s like when you walk past a familiar scent or perfume. At first you take a step back, realize it is familiar, and then slowly come back to identify it. Which character was related to whom? In what way? How long ago? It becomes very clear that they are all meant to weave together.

A good book entertains.

A good book is well organized.

A good book makes you cry.

A good book makes you laugh.

A good book tells you more about lands you’ve never been to.

This book did all of the above, and more.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Further Reading:

I received a copy of this book from www.BloggingforBooks.com. All opinions are my own. 

The Clasp by Sloane Crosley

theclasp

There are few writers that grab my attention quite like Sloane Crosley. She’s a psuedo-vegetarian, essayist, fashionista, and just a super cool chick (but not quite like the “cool girl” discussed in Gone Girl).

I was first grabbed by I Was Told There’d Be Cake, a collection of humor essays recommended to me by a friend (and purchased during my last days of working at Border’s Booksellers). The following Christmas, I received her other book, How Did You Get This Number? I immediately started following her other work, plus her co-founded blog Sad Stuff on the Street. I was so thrilled that she decided to venture into publishing fiction!

The Clasp is about three college buddies in crisis in their 20’s who reunite for a mutual friend’s wedding in Florida. Victor is an Adrian Brody look-a-like who was recently fired from his job at a search engine start-up. Kezia works for a jewelry designer with a boss who seems modeled after an edgier Miranda Priestly. Nathaniel lives in LA, trying to make it as a screenwriter, health nut, and hipster ladies’ man.

Victor wakes up the morning after the wedding, and steals a sketch of a necklace from the groom’s mother’s bedroom. He believes the necklace that inspired the sketch is in France, and may have inspired the Guy de Maupassant short story, “The Necklace.” While Victor goes to France on a hunt to find it, Kezia and Nathaniel make their way to France, for other reasons, and challenge their assumptions about their relationships and what they want in life.

Now, let me preface that I don’t have to like the characters in a book to enjoy the book I’m reading. In fact, sometimes a really un-likable character can help you reconcile and learn from some not-so-great parts of yourself. Despite my true love (and I do mean LOVE) of Crosley’s essays, this book just didn’t do it for me. Here’s why:

  • The first 2/3 of the book is just…boring. It was the first time in a long time I had to push myself to finish a book. It gets a little better towards the end.
  • The characters are not developed. For example, towards the beginning of the story, Nathaniel learns he has a not-serious heart condition. He reflects on the symbolism of it for about 1 page, wondering if this is why he has difficulty loving others. Then….that’s it. Both issues are maybe mentioned one other time, and without blending everything together. It’s like getting a hole in your jeans, and trying to sew it back together with thick yarn and big gaps in between. You’re better off just keeping the jeans “as is” and moving on.
  • The mood was not consistent. There was a continuing fluctuation of “good humored reunion” vibes, with “melancholic quarter-life crisis.” Even at the end, I didn’t know whether the characters were sad about their unresolved personal questions (about life, love, careers), or if they felt they came out of their adventure in France stronger than before.
  • The characters are unlikable. Like I said, this does not exclusively make me dislike a book, but I felt it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I know Crosley has the chops for a novel. Maybe this is just growing pains before she writes a really well-developed, enjoyable novel. I will be eagerly waiting for her next piece, but until then, I will not be recommending this one.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Further reading: