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A Reader of Fictions: Octopus's Garden - The Beatles

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Friday, July 15, 2011

Octopus's Garden - The Beatles

Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day

Author: Ben Loory
Pages: 210
Review Copy Acquired from: Penguin

Ben Loory's collection of short stories is, surprisingly, accurately portrayed by the cover. As much as I depend on them (old adages be damned), they often lie, depicting some scene or person never to occur or exist within the novel. The ocean, the spaceship and the octopus tentacle are all main aspects of at least one story. Let me also say that I love the cover, from the art to the texture of it. I also like the texture of the paper within (which does the old timey thing where some pages stick out more than others) and the flaps built into the trade paperback. This book is an excellent tactile experience.

Even before reading the first story, I was charmed by Loory, whose author's note reads: "Here are some stories. I hope you like them." So simple, but completely perfect, because that's what I, as a reader just starting into the book, precisely hope to do. So, you may wonder, did I like the stories? For the most part, yes. The stories are all very short and the writing is deceptively simple. In very few of the stories did I feel like I had a good grasp on what exactly was going on.

Most of the stories are left very open-ended, almost as though the stories are as much about you as they are about the characters in them. This point is borne out by the fact that the characters generally do not have names, referred to only as boy, girl, man, woman, friend, etc. In fact, if I remember correctly, the only characters who receive names are animals: the octopus family in "The Octopus" (along with their likely human landlord, who may be the only human with a name) and the moose (who receives a moniker) "The Man and the Moose." I am not quite sure what to make of this, but it's definitely intriguing.

The universality of the characters combined with the fantasy/magic elements made the stories feel like modern fairy tales or fables or urban legends. The magic was pervasive, subtle and a part of the regular world, which reminded me, in an odd way, of Sarah Addison Allen's novels. Where hers feature a sweet, happy magic, Loory's magic is generally that of something dark and dangerous, although some of the stories included are cute ones (which I fancy are the ones for the day). As an example of what reading the stories is like, I am going to share the shortest story with you.
"Once there was a man who was afraid of his shadow.
Then he met it.
Now he glows in the dark."
Without a doubt, Stories for the Nighttime and some for the day is an interesting read and exceedingly thought-provoking. Every story really is like the one above, in that the meaning is rather unclear and it's up to you to suss it out. I think this would be an excellent title for a book group, as everyone could share their impressions and analyze the themes running through all of the stories to get at the project's aims as a whole. I hope to see more from Ben Loory, especially what kind of a novel he would write.

"I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade
He'd let us in, knows where we've been
In his octopus' garden in the shade"

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