Monday, January 14, 2013

Wanderers by Edward Belfar

Title: Wanderers: Stories
Author: Edward Belfar

Genre: Fiction (Short Stories / Kenya / Bi-national / Marriages / Relationships / Divorce
Publisher/Publication Date: Stephen F. Austin University Press (6/5/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: Fifteen stories charting the shifting emotional landscapes of middle aged men: in marriages, out of marriages; working, unemployed; in the US and abroad; sad, miserable, and everything in between.
Reading Challenges: Immigrant Stories
Do I like the cover?: Ish. I hate the font for the title, but I like the rather stark background image -- harsh and weathered, a bit like the lives of the people Belfar writes about.

First line: My search for Billy Kapanka had led me as far west as Columbus, Ohio, where, until a few weeks before, he had worked in a Denny's as a fry cook and rented a furnished room., from 'Errors'

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, if you like fiction that doesn't always have a hopeful ending, armchair escape (Kenya, mostly, or Rome), and the frustrated ruminations of disappointed adults.

Why did I get this book?: The tile -- I suffer from wanderlust myself!

Review: This volume of 15 short stories are unvarnished moments of disappointment, disgrace, and disgust, feature men entering or exiting marriages, suffering through the long, dirty decline of their life after one or more poor life choices, and the wistful nostalgia of what was (or never was, but could have been). Set in urban Kenya (usually Nairobi and the suburbs), the hospital, or the scummy pits of a rent-a-week room in the city, the mood is a little dark, a little dirty, bitter, wry, nostalgic, gently sad, or savagely angry.

I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but while reading, I was surprised to find I enjoyed the stories. The 'voice' in these stories is very straight and male, which is an unusual tone in my reading, and while I found the way Belfar portrayed women to be flat, it fit with the mood of his angry, hurt protagonists.  Hysterical in their own way, these characters are fitful and resentful, tired and resigned; they're mired in their anger, self-pity, and regret, and can't see a way out.  Belfar expressed that in a way that hooked me.

According to the back blurb, one of Belfar's stories, "Errors', was a winning entry in the Sports Literature Association's 2008 fiction competition. I'm not a sports fan, and I contemplated skipping the story entirely. I didn't, and I'm grateful, as it is a standout in the volume. The potentially tired premise -- a down-and-out former baseball player undone by one very stupid mistake is chased down by a journalist -- became a very poignant look at our passion and hatred for athletes.  Given the current climate on bullying, it was a surprisingly emotional piece (for me), and I'm glad I didn't give it a pass!

Those interested in Kenya will especially like this volume. As I learned in an interview with the author at Booklover Book Reviews, Belfar's wife is from Kenya and they often visit, which explains the frequency with which Kenya shows up.  Reading about modern Nairobi is unusual for me, and it was a great surprise armchair escape.

My one tip is to not read the stories in this volume back to back (as I did) for Belfar's repeated use of certain phrases will jump out and grate. (Every decrepit abode has 'fuzzy orange and black mold' for example; the harridan ex-wives all pull out their hair in a violent nervous tic.)  Otherwise, I have no complaints: I was pleasantly surprised and greatly diverted with these stories, and it was revealing to see marriage (and the end of marriage) from a different viewpoint.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Wanderers to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 1/25.

11 comments:

  1. This book intrigues me, and I am wondering if it might be one to pick up soon. The fact that it deals exclusively with men who are down and out really has me curious, and from what you've said, it seems to stand out as one of those short story collections that really delivers. Thanks for the very flavorful and positive review. I might not have picked this one up on premise alone, but now I feel differently!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heather -- very much work grabbing -- it was a unique viewpoint for me (straight white men and their feelings) and I thought Belfar pulled it off well -- plus the unusual locales made it especially interesting.

      Delete
  2. Very perceptive and thoughtful review of this title.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you -- your interview was immensely insightful!

      Delete
  3. It sounds good, I like the premise and the way you've discussed the treatment of women as flat but fitting of the book - an interesting idea. The repetitions I fear would put me off, however. What you'd advised doing is good, but repeated phrases suggests more editing needed to be done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm quite sensitive to poor portrayals of women in my fiction, and these women aren't treated well -- but I didn't feel like Belfar let his men off the hook, either, and in this situation, it worked -- it didn't feel misogynist.

      Delete
  4. Sounds like an interesting collection - I do like stories that take me places. I agree though that the recurring descriptive phrases would be annoying - you'd think an early reader or good editor would pick up on that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I figured since the stories were written and submitted at different times to different publications, changing them to suit this volume wouldn't work. In one case, the repeat makes sense as it is referring to character from another story -- it wouldn't have bothered me, I think, if I paused more between the stories!

      Delete
  5. Sounds intriguing, but the phrases used repeatedly and the flat way in which women are portrayed would drive me nuts.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks for linking this up for Immigrant Stories! It does sound dark considering where these men are in their lives. I am warming more and more to short story collections and feel an author has real talent when they are done well.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'll keep in mind that I shouldn't read this one straight through. :)

    Thanks for being on the tour. Glad you enjoyed this one!

    ReplyDelete