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Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

Better Living Through Plastic Explosives - Zsuzsi Gartner Rating: 3.5* of fiveThe Book Description: Whether she takes on evolution and modern manhood, international adoption, real estate, the movie industry, science and faith, art, or terrorism, Gartner fillets the righteous and the ridiculous with dexterity in equal, heartbreaking, and glorious measure.Angels crash land, lovers speak IKEA, a mountain swallows tony West Coast properties, and a killer stalks the great motivational speakers of North America.These stories ruthlessly expose our covert fears and fathomless desires and allow us to snort with laughter—while grieving at the grotesque world we’d live in if we all got what we wanted. My Review: When reviewing collections, it's hard to know what to say about them whole and entire unless they're linked stories. With a group of stories like this book is, it's easiest and, IMO, best to adopt what I've called “The Bryce Method” in honor of an online friend who introduced me to the technique: A summary opinion, plus a short line or a quote from each story, together with a rating for the story. So as my summary opinion, I offer this: Please don't try so hard, Ms. Gartner, you have real and delicious talent when you don't reach quite so far for the laugh/wince/frown combo.The stories in book order:“Summer of the Flesh Eater” is a Lord of the Flies-esque tale of men behaving badly. I re-read that book already, it wasn't a success, and it isn't here either. 3 stars, all for the women's characterizations.“Once, We Were Swedes” is almost perfect, a surreal and sweet tale of a couple growing apart and growing old in their separate ways, losing and somehow not understanding the loss of their once-intense connection to each other. The idea of IKEA product names being a loving, erotic language is hilarious to me, which is probably why I give it 4.5 stars.“Floating Like a Goat” is the midnight letter that you write in your head, the one that exorcises the demon-strength rage and hate that you feel over some small thing. Anna writes this letter to Shayala Subramanium, her daughter Georgia's kindergarten art teacher, after getting the word from “Miss S.” that Georgia is “failing to meet expectations” in art class. Funny, pungent, familiar. 3.875 stars, that last eighth of a star for the Dobbie (of Harry Potter fame) reference.“Investment Results May Vary” juxtaposes the lives of Honey Fortunata, overachieving shady real-estate lady and Filipina stereotype, with kidnapper and superannuated slacker Nina, in a strange little tale of ecological vengeance on the overprivileged. Unsuccessful. 2 stars.“The Adopted Chinese Daughters' Rebellion” refines the author's disdain for the white, overprivileged, left-leaning elite who adopt the unwanted girls from China and then attempt to raise them with Chinese cultural referents to a new, diamond-bladed sharp edge. I think Gartner is a major practitioner of “snarktire,” a kind of steroidally enhanced satire with an extra-curled lip. 3 stars for chutzpah.“What Are We Doing Here?” chronicles the terrible date that a hipster-chick-wannabe has with a middlescent (over 40) semi-famous photographer of woman intellectuals of A Certain Age. She thinks it's a party he's invited her to; he's made steaks and baked potatoes. Her little world is unbearably unimportant, and his unbearably self-important. It doesn't go well. It does, however, go a long way to making the divide between the generations and the genders snap into sharp focus. 3.5 stars.“Someone is Killing the Great Motivational Speakers of Amerika” pits a mom-type motivational speaker of deeply digressive dullness against the rainforest of western Canada, while in the company of a teenaged son, his twenty-something girlfriend, and some miscellaneous bores. Footnotes can be fun; they aren't, here. 2.5 stars.“Mister Kakami” sends up The Film Industry, which is a little bit expected from a Vancouverite, much as it would be for an Angeleno. Pseudo-kudos for not forgetting to use the anti-Semitic stock character, The Jewish Producer. 2.5 stars.“We Come in Peace”--angel/aliens narrate their time inhabiting human teenagers. The very least amusing story in the collection, and pretty much a damn good thing it was followed by the best. 2 stars.“Better Living Through Plastic Explosives” is scintillating, a lovely rumination on middle age, gardening, memory, motherhood, and the bitter, angry darkness that can swallow the soul of someone who “settles” in life. Also? Funny as hell. 4.75 stars