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Are You Here for What I’m Here For? by…
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Are You Here for What I’m Here For?

by Brian Booker

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
When I received my review copy of this collection, the accompanying letter came from Bellevue Literary Press, an arm of the NYU Department of Medicine. They also published a novel I much loved, Paul Harding’s slim Pulitzer Prize Winner, Tinkers, so I was very intrigued.

I was not surprised to find that Brian Booker’s atmospheric and unsettling short fiction deals with the ways in which we respond to or cope with illness or infirmity – in ourselves and others. How illness can be polarizing and isolating. There’s a palpable sense of deep discomfort and paranoia pervading each story.

Booker dips into several different genres for each of his stories. The most atmospheric and impactful tale, “Brace for Impact,” is the story of two teenagers trying to lose their virginity juxtaposed with that of one of their mothers, the invalid survivor of a plane crash. The boy’s encounter with her has the strange menace of horror fiction, while “The Sleeping Sickness,” is a noir-ish thriller that takes place, Alfred Hitchcock-style, largely on a train. Some of the stories have a strange, dark humor to them, particularly the title piece, wherein a hypochondriac who believes she is terminally ill finds renewed vigor after a weekend with her husband at a tropical spa, and “Gumbo Limbo,” a sort of fractured fairy tale about a pharmacist’s blind ward who befriends a mysterious sea creature, sending superstitious locals into a fear-fueled rage.

The language is spare but affecting and adds to the often dream-like atmosphere of the tales. For example, this passage from “Gumbo Limbo,” which likens the tide to the beating of a human heart:

“And even if you never ask one question your whole life, still it says that one thing, always and only that one thing: I’m here. I’m going. I’m here. I’m going. I’m here.”

In exploring illness - real and imagined, physical and psychological – Booker is also examining, in a larger sense, how humans cope with mortality. This is a challenging, thought-provoking collection. ( )
  blakefraina | Sep 5, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Given the wonderful reviews I have been seeing I was excited to dive into these short stories but I was left wanting.

There wasn't anything I could really put my finger on that wasn't up to par - they just didn't really capture my attention in the way I like my short stories to do. ( )
  TracyRae | Jul 6, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Seven weirdly wonderful stories with characters grappling with the darkest of monsters... those that arise from the inner world of the mind. Unsettling, to say the least, this is not for everyone. But those who venture in will find surreal scenes that refuse not only to leave, but insist upon stirring dark currents in their own minds. There's humor here, and a strong thread of love for the strange creatures we are. A good read. The question is, do you dare? It's hard to stick a toe in without finding yourself suddenly submerged. ( )
  Carrie.Kilgore | Jun 13, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Are You Here For What I'm Here For? is a book of very lethally quiet stories. Mr. Booker had such a lyrical choice of words to tell each and I experienced almost a dreamlike feel about them -- just lovely pacing while keeping me a bit off kilter and unsettled as to what was happening, what was going to happen, in this collection. It was all a bit wibbly wobbly timey wimey.

My favorites: The Sleeping Sickness; Here to Watch Over Me; and Gumbo Limbo. All three of these were the ones that really grabbed me up and had me thinking about them long after I put the book down.

Nice job and I would love to read more short stories by this author. Highly recommend . ( )
  DanaJean | Jun 2, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This collection of seven stories has really stuck with me, much like George Saunders did. His writing may not be as polished as Saunders, but for a debut it is pretty impressive. I love the slightly surreal and the chilly menace that pervades the narrative, as these characters make their way through a skewed American landscape. ( )
  msf59 | May 31, 2016 |
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