Some writers have one story to tell, and will tell the same story over again in different forms. Perhaps it's a story of lost love, lost under different names and circumstances, in short stories and novels, but always portrayed as equally tragic. With his book Anthropology, Dan Rhodes has taken this on intentionally. He's written 101 very short stories (each story is 101 words), and every one of the stories is a first-person account of a man and his constantly shifting relationship in a long string of interchangeable girlfriends.
Opal, Skylark, Melody, Harmony, Phuong, Sundial, Firefly, Treasure...The girlfriends are beautiful and kind. They leave him. They don't mourn. Sometimes they die. Then the narrator mourns but moves on. Rhodes' humor comes through conveying obsession alongside detachment, citing everything as both extraordinary and redundant, and the love in these stories mocks the kind of love we're fed through TV or in Hollywood--meaningless love passed quickly around through a crowd of cold and beautiful people.
In the story "Faithful," Rhodes writes: "My girlfriend died. I was heartbroken, and vowed to remain faithful to her memory. At first I had no difficulty; my distress was so great that I couldn't even contemplate kissing anyone else. But, after a while, another girl started showing an interest. I resisted her advances. 'You're very pretty,' I told her, 'but it's just too soon. I'm sorry.' She wouldn't give up. She kept gently touching me, and fluttering her mascara-coated eyelashes. Eventually I yielded, and fell into her arms. The man asked us to leave. He said our rustling, slurping and giggling was upsetting the other mourners."
That's one entire story.
With each story fitting neatly on a single page, to read the book is like reading a series of inspirational anecdotes, and the publisher actually suggests reading the book "to laugh and forget your sorrows." In an effort to elevate the work, the publisher describes the structure of the 101-word length as "not unlike writing a sonnet." Of course, to put 101 narrative words on a page is a far cry from the highly structured and disciplined form of a sonnet. The stories in Anthropology are clever, occasionally funny, and always cold. A few details of some of the stories entertained me enough to linger. Ultimately, though, as a fellow writer and a friend put it, this quick read is disposable.