by Steve Almond, appearing at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside, Monday May 2, 7:30 pm
Steve Almond's best short stories break down isolated and frequently unpleasant, yet entirely familiar human interactions into their sparest, most revealing components. His new story collection, The Evil B.B. Chow, is better than his debut collection, My Life in Heavy Metal, was, but still has a bafflingly large supply of works that never should have made the cut. The opening title story is a mesmerizing account of a white woman's passionate fling with an awkward Chinese doctor--it's promptly followed by "The Soul Molecule," about a college dude's parents who believe they've been abducted by space aliens. The former is a delicate, hilarious, and brutal rendering of a fascinating and unique relationship; the latter is a cheap, extended joke.
Such odd lapses in quality hold B.B. Chow back, but when it hits, it hits hard. "Wired For Life" tells the terrific tale of a sexually unsatisfied woman who falls hard for the Asian man who repairs her computer adaptor (the two best stories in the book feature repressed women diddling Asian men--Almond himself is an uber-white Bostonian). "Larsen's Novel" addresses with hilarious urgency the very real problem of having to tell a writer friend when you hate their work. Almond's prose is sensational, his eye for physical detail immaculate. "He had one of those exaggerated faces," he writes. "His lips and nose seemed to yearn for one another, as if he might kiss himself at any moment."
Almond is equipped with the tools to become a major literary force, but all too often he squanders them on an almost creepy penchant for tasteless comedy. I'm still not sure what "Lincoln, Arisen" is about, but I have the sinking suspicion it posits a homosexual relationship between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. "The Idea of Michael Jackson's Dick" is a highly uninspired diatribe on exactly what the title suggests, and "Skull" is a brief, stomach-churning meditation on real-life skull-fucking. "Skull" closes the book out, leaving a nauseating taste in the mouth, and cementing the notion that this gifted writer is not taking his gifts seriously.