Review by ButterscotchCherrie -- The Memoir Man

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ButterscotchCherrie
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Review by ButterscotchCherrie -- The Memoir Man

Post by ButterscotchCherrie »

[Following is a volunteer review of "The Memoir Man" by Frances Webb.]
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3 out of 4 stars
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I've observed some intriguing characters in my neighbourhood, like the man who goes round cafe tables begging for cigarettes, and the lady who sits in the square with her craft projects. In her anthology The Memoir Man, author Frances Webb uses human activities in public places as the raw material for short stories and poems. Typically, a narrator recounts an incident they observed or were somehow involved in. These vary from the ordinary to the bizarre.

The stories and poems are at their most effective when the encounter changes the narrator in some way. For example, the story "A Map of the Streets of the City of New York" is narrated by a teacher of English to Spanish-speaking students. This teacher, whose gender is not explicitly mentioned, repeats the phrase "I am employed" from time to time while recounting various incidents from classes. This shows how such employment shapes that narrator's identity, which was fascinating to think about. Something else I loved about this story was the way it explored different levels of communication and understanding.

Misunderstandings between characters give rise to tension in some of the stories. I appreciated the author's skill in building such tension even when there was no interaction between the narrator and the characters. For example, in the story "What to Do What to Do", the narrator's fretting about the shell of an egg eaten by a fellow passenger sheds light on their own anxiety.

The above story offers a prime example of the author's blow-by-blow style. As the scenes play out, readers are whisked along at a fast pace. Plenty of details are given, yet most of the stories take just a few minutes to read. As a result of the stories' brevity, the jumps from one piece to the next come often. These switches sometimes made me feel dizzy, and I believe the collection could be improved if the works were grouped more by theme. There is a consecutive series of short stories and poems with train settings, but some of the others could also be ordered more logically.

Some disorientation could also be caused by the extreme shortness of many stories. Very short works can feel complete, of course, but some of the ones in this book felt insufficiently developed. In those cases, the endings did not pack as much of a punch as short fiction ideally should. At best, however, this collection did contain some noteworthy examples of endings that could linger in readers' minds. For example, the story "Keepsake" might get you thinking about the significance you assign to encounters with strangers.

As the collection includes relatable themes, and most of the work in it is polished but of slightly variable quality, I rate it three out of four stars. I'd recommend it to fans of short, pithy stories or lovers of poems that lend lyricism to everyday experiences. City dwellers might particularly savour the familiarity of various incidents on public transport.

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The Memoir Man
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Miriam Molina
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Post by Miriam Molina »

I read the eponymous first story about a man visiting a library regularly while presumably writing his memoirs. I didn't get it. Maybe I should read it again?

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ButterscotchCherrie
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Post by ButterscotchCherrie »

I liked it because of everything the narrator dreamed up while watching him, and how this triggered recollections from her own life. The best of the other stories and poems effectively explored the theme of the strange attachments we make to people we don't really know. The story about the Hispanic students is award-winning.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
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Post by sanjus »

Carefully observing the human activities in public places and creatively using it as the raw material for short stories or poems appears to be quite an excellent idea to me. The stories made out of it reflect more closely with human life. Thanks for your insightful review. I should be looking at this book.
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Post by lavenderbooks20 »

I have always been fascinated with this collection and its intriguing premise. I think about time I read this. Thank you for such an insightful review!

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ButterscotchCherrie
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Post by ButterscotchCherrie »

sanjus wrote:
22 Nov 2020, 03:10
Carefully observing the human activities in public places and creatively using it as the raw material for short stories or poems appears to be quite an excellent idea to me. The stories made out of it reflect more closely with human life. Thanks for your insightful review. I should be looking at this book.
The author definitely had a great idea to turn this into fiction. Thank you for your kind comment!
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ButterscotchCherrie
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Post by ButterscotchCherrie »

lavenderbooks20 wrote:
22 Nov 2020, 04:16
I have always been fascinated with this collection and its intriguing premise. I think about time I read this. Thank you for such an insightful review!
One thing I love about short stories is that they can easily be read in a coffee break. Thank you for your kind comment!
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Post by anua24060 »

The author's style sounds good. Thanks for the great review!

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ButterscotchCherrie
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Post by ButterscotchCherrie »

anua24060 wrote:
23 Nov 2020, 23:22
The author's style sounds good. Thanks for the great review!
It's important in short stories, and the author pulls it off well here. Thanks for your comment!
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Post by Ellylion »

I believe the book is still a suitable read for short fiction lovers :) Thank you for your great and insightful review!

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ButterscotchCherrie
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Post by ButterscotchCherrie »

Ellylion wrote:
26 Nov 2020, 08:54
I believe the book is still a suitable read for short fiction lovers :) Thank you for your great and insightful review!
Short fiction lovers will indeed find plenty to enjoy in this one. Thanks for your comment!
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Post by Tarilan »

When I first saw the book cover, I didn't know what to expect. Your review makes me want to read it. Thanks for the wonderful review.

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Post by Sou Hi »

Miriam Molina wrote:
18 Nov 2020, 07:21
I read the eponymous first story about a man visiting a library regularly while presumably writing his memoirs. I didn't get it. Maybe I should read it again?
I agree. I also read the first story before. Its abrupt and vague ending leaves me confused, and I'm not sure if the other stories would also share this trait.

Nevertheless, your review seems interesting, ButterscotchCherrie. I guess I can give this book another try.

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Post by Saint Bruno »

I would have to skip this one, but I really enjoyed reading your detailed and insightful review. I am sure readers interested in this kind od book will find it worth the read.

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ButterscotchCherrie
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Post by ButterscotchCherrie »

Tarilan wrote:
26 Nov 2020, 13:55
When I first saw the book cover, I didn't know what to expect. Your review makes me want to read it. Thanks for the wonderful review.
I had the same thought about the cover when I first saw it. The appeal of the book is certainly more in the people than the eggs!
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