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Good People

by Robert Lopez

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3515568,236 (3.13)4
"Treading the fine line between confession and self-justification, the absurd violence of threatened masculinity, and the perverse joy of neurosis, Lopez's stories reveal the compulsive suffering at the precarious core of our universal humanity." --

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After I started this book I thought, “Oh Jesus, another collection of stories where nothing happens, and if something does, it never gets resolved.” But then, it began to grow on me. After a few stories, some short, others shorter, I began to realize the point was the journey and not the destination. I think.

Most of the characters are torn or estranged from family, many barely engaged in normal life. I don’t know how you make this funny, but Robert Lopez does. Laughter through pain. In Goodnight Maybe Forever a man planning suicide gets beaten, a lot, usually by people who are supposed to help keep him safe – family, doctors, his mother.

Another character is trying to find his sister, maybe she lives in Piscataway, to introduce her to his new Eastern European bride who he met playing poker. “I can hardly understand questions myself, let alone the answers.” The title story, featuring more clueless men, is the best. Wonder and cluelessness are rampant. “I see the trucks speeding by and imagine what it’d feel like to get run over by one. I’m sure it would hurt.” Yes, like life itself. ( )
  Hagelstein | Apr 15, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Lopez has a distinctive, staccato style that's amusing for one story. After that, though, the voice gets repetitious and thin as if all he has is that style, no meaningful content, no greater theme.
  susanbooks | Sep 28, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I applaud the effort, but this book wasn't 'up my alley'.
  Litgirl7 | Feb 9, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The back cover blurbs on this collection say things like “nothing is funnier than unhappiness with a heavy dose of amorality” or “a motley cast of obsessive, self-deluded outsiders” or “dark moments, which include kidnapping, voyeurism, and psychic masochism” or “the black humor of life’s unreason”. You get the idea. These are stories of unlikable people. These are stories which purport to, with the turn of a phrase or image, turn these unlikable people into someone we care about – entertaining or sympathetic or, at the very least, interesting. These are the type of stories that intend to shine light on the person within each of us by using the flashlight of the obsessed and deranged.

Achieving this is no easy task. It requires telling tales of unlikable people in a way that entertains and makes us feel sympathy (at the very least providing some point of connection) with those people. While we hate them, for the story to be successful, we have to learn to like them (or at least identify in some small way with them).

In this collection it is quite easy to dislike these people. Unfortunately, there is next to no reason to like, let alone tolerate them. If I could have built up some hate for them, then they might have at least proven to be entertaining. But, far too often, even in their loathsomeness, I couldn’t even work up a bit of ire. They were just distasteful individuals with whom I wish I hadn’t spent the time.

Before discussing the characters, let’s talk about the writing. I am instantly put off when it appears the author is working too hard to by “styly”. And so, I instantly ran into trouble when the first story (7 pages) was one, extended, semi-stream-of-consciousness paragraph. Yes, this can be done effectively. I have seen it done resulting in incredible results. But this felt pretentious and stuck on. Next story. Oh no. Eleven pages; one paragraph. A very bad trend. Story three. Thank goodness – paragraphs. Then a two-page story. (Story is a generous name.) Then something closer to a real story (although some of the paragraphs went on and on.) Then a three-page story. Then a story with a ten-page paragraph followed by actual paragraphs. Then a three-page story. Eventually, in a change of pace, two stories that had many paragraphs – each sentence its own paragraph with blank lines in between. Then…

(It’s been a little while since I read these stories and I thought my memory might be playing false with me – that there were only a few such instances and my memory had overblown the experience. Unfortunately, the re-visitation has proven that to not be the case.)

Look, I know this makes it look like I am way to hung up on pages and paragraphs. But two things. One, if I noticed this, then it means I was far too easily distracted from the story that was being displayed. If a story is good (and I won’t even define good at this moment – just good enough to keep you involved), then neither you nor I will care about how many paragraphs, pages, etc. there are. We will be in the moment. But when we are out of the moment, we notice affectations that distract.

(Did I mention the first story is also all one sentence? Bah…let me get past this.)

So, what about that cast of characters? Well, here’s an interesting thing. I know that, as I read the stories, they all left a bad taste in my memory. However, as I go back through those stories now, I have trouble remembering much about any of them. There was one man who came up with excuses for hitting a woman, someone about to hang himself, a murderer (I think), others who…look, it is literally work to try and conjure up the protagonists of these stories. I am even skimming over them again to try and remember and there is…nothing. Vague memories, but no real feeling but apathy towards the work of trying to recall.

In other words, despicable people who are not memorable.

So, by the end of this collection (and upon re-reading and skimming) there is just the feeling of depression and the subtle suggestion that it all wasn’t worth the time. Some may find deep introspection. Others may find black humor and entertainment. All I found was occasionally interesting writing that gave me no joy nor laughter nor insights nor reasons to really want to visit again. ( )
  figre | Feb 8, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Short visionary clips. Vignettes in an old language, real and relaxed. Robert Lopez has a voice that is like the murmuring heard from the next confessional. These stories smile but never laugh. In their honesty they conspire with us, and are therefore much like dreams. They are all 'good people'. ( )
2 vote abealy | Jan 31, 2016 |
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"Treading the fine line between confession and self-justification, the absurd violence of threatened masculinity, and the perverse joy of neurosis, Lopez's stories reveal the compulsive suffering at the precarious core of our universal humanity." --

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