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All Over by Roy Kesey

All Over

by Roy Kesey

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All over is a collection of 19 short stories, by the American author Roy Kesey. Kesey is the author of four books, Nanjing: A Cultural and Historical Guide, and two short stories collections: Nothing in the World, and All over, written and published in 2007 while living in Beijing, and his latest, Pacazo, a novel published in 2011. Kesey now resides in Maryland

At a total of 145 pages, this means each story in All over is very short, at an average length of just about eight pages. All stories are highly charged with a feverish energy and dynamic, and some of them are characterised by a frantic verbosity, which make them somewhat difficult to read, and require attentive reading. The writing can be called experimental, with parts of regular prose interspersed with ultra-short paragraphs, and short-style dialogue, which raises the pace of reading. Formal and informal styles are mixed.

The premise of most stories is some form of weirdness, but very close to real-life experience. For instance, the first story, "Invunche y voladora" swirls around the irritations that develop between lovers in long relationships, but this couple is newly-wed. Thus, the story bears out the tale of many failed marriages on the first day of honeymoon. Cleverly done, and one of the better stories in the collection.

In the short story "Loess", the narrator is the former Chinese Prime-Minister Zhou Enlai who outlines to Chairman Mao Zedong how they will shape Chinese history. The story is told from their pre-natal perspective.

There are other stories that betray their origin as being written in China, for example, "At the Pizza Hut, the Girls Build Their Towers". The story describes how customers at the Pizza Hut, being restricted to a single serving from the salad bar (used to) pile their salad incredibly high, to maximize the amount of salad ingredients which could be held on top of one (small) salad bowl.

Another story that seems inspired by China is "Scroll", the second story in the collection. It tells the story of an artist who spent 34 years to create a painting that is nine miles long and then fails to find a gallery to show it.

This collection of stories will be very interesting to readers seeking out the avant-garde of modern short-story writing, and it will be interesting to follow the further development of Roy Kesey as an emerging author. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Jan 16, 2013 |
I love it when a new small press succeeds right from the start. Roy Kesey's short story collection All Over is the first release from Dzanc Books, a new independent press founded by Steve Gillis and Dan Wickett, who for years has been fervently championing oft-neglected literary fiction at his Emerging Writers Network website.

They couldn't have picked a better winner than All Over for their first horse out of the starting gate. In these 19 stories, Kesey takes the reader on a tour of post-modern fiction that is at once bizarre and completely familiar. Here, you'll meet a man named Martin who thinks he's a guitar string, honeymooners who are threatened by llamas, a homeless couple who initially thrive during a garbage strike, and two girls who build a castle—complete with crenellated parapets—out of the ingredients at a Pizza Hut salad bar.

Each story is out of the ordinary, and yet we can always point to the page and say, "That could be me," or "Dude, he totally snagged my neighbor on that one—you know, the secretly-gay anesthesiologist who's totally in love with the obstetrician, the pompous ass who's completely stuck on himself?" Yes, that guy is here, along with dozens of other offbeat oddballs who, let's face it, are really just shredded pieces of you and me.

All Over opens strongly with the aforementioned honeymooners in a story called "Invunche y voladora." When they wake up in Chile the day after their wedding, both husband and wife realize they remember nothing of the ceremony or the reception that followed. As they ward off marauding llamas, survive a disastrous horseback ride, and cast worried glances at the lake where "dark shapes turn and roil and heave beneath the surface," the newlyweds pick through the already-smoldering ruin of their marriage. Kesey's writing is spare and tense, as if Raymond Carver bumped into Ernest Hemingway and "Hills Like White Elephants" decided to marry "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."

Another story, "Scroll," is a sad, searing illustration of how mainstream America has exiled art to the ghetto of neglect. An artist has spent thirty-four years painting a mural of a mountain range ("minus the boring parts") on a single canvas seven feet high and nine miles long. He spends the entire story trying to find somebody, anybody, who will display his masterpiece which he plans to mount between steel posts five hundred yards apart. There, he'll slowly unscroll the painting for viewers who are patient enough to watch the entire seventeen hours of moving canvas. It doesn't go well. In a world of short-attention-span media buzz, no one has time to devote to a painting of this magnitude. These days, Kesey seems to be saying, we take our culture in teaspoon doses.

Many of the stories in All Over are, in fact, no bigger than a teaspoon. Kesey knows how to get in and out of a story quickly, leaving us standing by the side of the road, gasping, and wondering what the hell that was which just barreled past us. Here, for example, is how one story, "Hat," opens: "He came in through the door, and they gave him a paperclip and told him to make an airplane." Another, "[Exeunt.," begins with: "The birds are catching fire again. I keep shouting up to them, Fly lower, fly lower! They never listen."

There are tales of political conquest, political torture, and political buffoonery. There are stories that will break your heart—"Fontanel" is a beautiful, swirling spiral of fragments and interconnected characters which centers around the birth of a child. There is even a story of grim horror—"Wait"—which will be instantly recognizable to anyone who believes that an airport waiting lounge is a thinly-disguised version of Hell.

This is a lot to pack into 145 pages, but Kesey manages to pull it off without breaking a sweat. There is something for everyone here, at least for those who are willing to let fiction take them places they wouldn't ordinarily go.

All Over is not all-over perfect, however. Just like Martin-the-guitar-string, Kesey plucks a couple of off-key notes in the collection. "Calisthenics" is a short-short which could take a lesson from its title—it lies flabby and listless on the page, but is fortunately over in the blink of an eye. "Follow the Money," the final story in All Over is more problematic. A self-professed homage to Elmore Leonard, the story wants to be clever by assaulting the reader with more than two dozen characters in the space of ten pages, using nearly every letter of alphabet for names like Lapcharoensap, Xochitl, and Ulfarsdottir. The plot is standard noir lifted from the imagination of writers like Leonard, Chandler and Tarantino, making it unfairly challenging to keep everything straight—though perhaps that was the point. Unfortunately, Kesey sacrifices entertainment in favor of being clever in a writerly way.

Those two stories, however, are the only bad grapes in the bunch. The remainder of All Over is sharp as cheddar and as invigorating as plunging your head into a bucket of ice water. Kesey is on to something great here—the kind of fiction that bends our minds like paperclips then teaches us how to build airplanes. ( )
2 vote davidabrams | Oct 15, 2007 |
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...a fast-paced, risk-taking book preoccupied with futurity.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0979312302, Perfect Paperback)

Roy Kesey has been hailed as one of our best young writers. All Over, his debut collection, presents nineteen of his most original stories. They first appeared in magazines such as McSweeney's, Ninth Letter and The Kenyon Review, and have been chosen for anthologies including Best American Short Stories, The Robert Olen Butler Prize Anthology and New Sudden Fiction.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:21 -0400)

"A restlessly inventive collection, as the best story collections so often are--comic and tender, ironic and earnest, deadpan and passionate. A distinctive new voice, from a distinctive new press"--Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl Includes "Wait", a Best American Short Stories 2007 inclusion.… (more)

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