10/15/2012 10:24 am ET Updated Oct 23, 2012

The Book We're Talking About: 'Hush Hush' by Steven Barthelme

Hush Hush by Steven Barthelme
Melville House, $16.95
October 23, 2012

What is it about?
Barthleme's short story collection explores shortcomings from multiple angles. As Melville House, the book's publisher, explains on their site: "Steven Barthelme seems to cast an eye at his own history and the characters he’s known. These are men and women who are down — but stirringly, not quite out." One such character is Quinn, who reappears in several unfortunate scenes, including a fistfight, a deceased mentoring experience and an uncomfortable return to Texas to fix up cars. While some stories delve into the experimental, Barthelme remains poignant throughout.

Why are we talking about it?
Barthelme and his brothers are a literary clan worth following. Plus, this is one of the few noteworthy short story collections that we've come across this year.

Who wrote it?
Steven Barthelme is the son of Donald Barthelme, Sr., a famous modernist architect based in Houston, Texas. He and his two brothers, Donald and Frederick, are writers of fiction, stories and essays. Steven is the director of The Center for Writers at The University of Southern Mississippi. He's known for writing modernist stories, and has won several Pushcart prizes for his work.

Who will read it?
Fans of short stories, literary fiction, experimental fiction, and intimate, small-scale plots.

What do the reviewers say?
Publisher's Weekly: "Barthelme’s new book is less a set of linked short stories than narratives that cohere with thematic chiming. Protagonists in similar predicaments advance an idea and play upon one another from tale to tale: a narrator faces the impending death of his father, and in the next story, a character deals with a father figure’s death."

Flavorwire: "This collection of linked short stories is honest, insightful and often painfully funny, the characters mucking about in the dirt, covering their hands and clothes and matting their hair, but never losing their humanity."

Impress your friends:
Another brotherly collaboration, that of Jacob and Wilhem Grimm in romantic-era Germany, was initially criticized for its obscene content that was deemed unsuitable for children. In the first edition of the pair's fairy tales, "Rapunzel" illustrated a sexual relationship between the princess and her suitor. This was later taken out by Wilhem.

Opening line:
"Every eager enquiry elicits exculpatory equivocation, I said, eventually."

Notable passage:
"Everything in the place was weird orange and white stripes. I kept waiting for cops to show up but they never did. Freddy was eating onion rings. He has asked for two orders of them, but the black kid who brought the food to the table brought three. The kid stood, with an orange plastic tray on a strap around his neck, like a cigarette girl, approving. When he put the stuff down in front of us, he said, "These are so good... I just really love these onion rings."



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