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Brief Encounters with the Enemy: Fiction by…

Brief Encounters with the Enemy: Fiction

by Said Sayrafiezadeh

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I ended up liking this quite a bit. It needs to be read all together—the stories are not so much linked as forming a kind of wallpaper, a zeitgeist of an unnamed 21st-century mid-American town and an unnamed 21st-century war, from the viewpoint of a series of mid-level-achieving young white men. They have vaguely antagonistic relationships with other guys, vaguely aspirational relationships with women, not much in the way of ambition. I realize that doesn't make them sound particularly attractive as subjects, but that's pretty much the point—they're both real and allegorical at the same time.

The stories themselves are a bit myth-like, in the way certain male writers at the beginning of the last century would write about the war in stories that were close to parables, but not quite. The key here being that Sayrafiezadeh has good control over both his writing and his myth-making, and the collection as a whole added up to something interesting. I definitely want to go back and read his memoir now. ( )
  lisapeet | Jul 20, 2014 |
This is an evocative collection of stories linked by place and time, rather than by characters. I'm guessing Pittsburgh or some other rustbelt city in the 90's.
The last story in this collection blew me away. The baseness of Walmart is laid bare in the heartbreaking description of a photograph of a 10 year old shoplifter mounted on a "wall of shame" in the employee breakroom. It is an image I will not soon forget. ( )
1 vote molugum | May 24, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812993586, Hardcover)

The first short story collection from a writer who calls to mind such luminaries as Denis Johnson, George Saunders, and Nathan Englander
When The New Yorker published a short story by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh in 2010, it marked the emergence of a startling new voice in fiction, one at first glance disarmingly plainspoken and affecting, and yet also deeply ironical and uncanny in its lingering power. In this astonishing book, Sayrafiezadeh conjures up a nameless American city and its unmoored denizens: a call-center employee jealous of the attention lavished on a co-worker newly returned from a foreign war; a history teacher dealing with a classroom of maliciously indifferent students; a grocery store janitor caught up in a romantic relationship with a kleptomaniac customer. These men’s struggles and fleeting triumphs—with women, with cruel bosses, with the morning commute—are transformed into storytelling that is both universally resonant and wonderfully strange. Sometimes the effect is hilarious, as when a would-be suitor tries to take his sheltered, religious date on a “Love Boat” carnival ride. Other times it’s devastating, as in the unforgettable story that gives the book its title: a soldier on his last routine patrol on a deserted mountain path finally encounters “the enemy” he’s long sought a glimpse of.
Upon giving the author the Whiting Writers’ Award for his memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free, the judges hailed his writing as “intelligent, funny, utterly unsmug and unpreening.”  These fiercely original stories show their author employing his considerable gifts to offer a lens on our collective dreams and anxieties, casting them in a revelatory new light.
Praise for Saïd Sayrafiezadeh and When Skateboards Will Be Free
“Sayrafiezadeh writes with extraordinary power and restraint. . . . This writer’s prose has some of [Isaac Bashevis] Singer’s wistful comedy, and a good deal of that writer’s curiosity about the places where desire, self-sacrifice and societal obligation intersect and collide.”—The New York Times
“[Sayrafiezadeh] writes with grace and clarity about growing up juggling deprivation and desire.”—Time
“A brave, honest and elegant book. It felt like the story was being whispered in my ear. I haven’t read a memoir in quite a while that has so skillfully made sense of an American childhood.”—Colum McCann

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:04 -0400)

"An unnamed American city feeling the effects of a war waged far away and suffering from bad weather is the backdrop for this startling work of fiction. The protagonists are aimless young men going from one blue collar job to the next, or in a few cases, aspiring to middle management. Their everyday struggles--with women, with the morning commute, with a series of cruel bosses--are somehow transformed into storytelling that is both universally resonant and wonderfully uncanny. That is the unsettling, funny, and ultimately heartfelt originality of Sad Sayrafiezadeh's short fiction, to be at home in a world not quite our own but with many, many lessons to offer us"--… (more)

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