Posted by

Allen Adams Allen Adams
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

edge staff writer


‘Creative Types’ offers superb short fiction

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

All the best fiction is built around interesting ideas and/or individuals. It’s just the amount of time and space devoted to them that varies. While novels spend hundreds of pages delving into their core concepts and characters, short fiction tends to provide a much quicker hit.

And sometimes, the quicker hit is the one that hits hardest.

Tom Bissell’s new collection “Creative Types: And Other Stories” (Pantheon, $27) delivers a septet of such hits; we watch as people are forced to confront the realities around them on both micro and macro levels, leaving them to explore the impacts of actions on themselves and their larger worlds.

Whether we’re in the offices of a literary magazine or a Roman hotel room, discussing an interview with a masked vigilante or the aftermath of a PR misfire on the stage of “Saturday Night Live,” what Bissell does so wonderfully in “Creative Types” is illustrate just how much turmoil exists beneath the seeming placid surface attitudes of those who operate in a creative orbit.

The collection kicks off with “A Bridge Under Water,” a portrait of a marriage whose participants begin to question whether their union was a good idea as it all unravels on an Italian holiday. “Punishment” is the story of a grown man confronting the realities of his past as a middle school bully when his former partner-in-crime turns up for a visit. The collection’s titular tale revolves around a couple whose quest to spice up their love lives turns into a conflict with the escort they’ve invited to join them.

“Love Story, With Cocaine” watches as a wealthy daughter of industry winds up entangled with a mysterious American courtesy to a dog attack and a pile of cocaine. “The Hack” follows the misadventures of the assistant to a famous movie star (who is DEFINITELY James Franco) after an unapproved joke about the infamous Sony hack makes it into said star’s “SNL” opening monologue. And “The Fifth Category” sees a mid-level government lawyer – the one responsible for deconstructing the legality (not the morality) of “enhanced interrogation.”

And in “My Interview with the Avenger” – my personal favorite of the seven – we get a glossy magazine profile in which the writer interviews a reclusive masked vigilante. It’s an engaging parody of that kind of breathless feature writing while also serving as an exploration of the nature of vigilantism. There’s a healthy dose of questioning celebrity culture as well. Granted, as a superhero fan of long standing AND a writer myself, this was always going to land with me, but Bissell has crafted something truly engaging and thought-provoking here.

But the truth is that all of the stories in “Creative Types” are engaging and thought-provoking, delivered with deft prose and wicked humor. The real joy of collections like this is the fact that you’re given not one authorial vision, but seven – all of them different, yet undeniably bound by the style and substance of Bissell’s singular talents.

To leap from story to story, from perspective to perspective, from character to character – it’s some of the most fun you can have as a reader of literary fiction, particularly when it is being delivered by someone as gifted as Bissell. The people in these stories are both flawed and inevitably forced to confront those flaws (though often not particularly successfully). These confrontations bring forward larger notions that run the gamut, though most if not all seem to be grounded in the consequences of choice – consequences that we don’t always anticipate.

Bissell also has a real knack for crafting complex relationships, finding ways to evoke the layers of interpersonal interaction in just a few sentences. In stories like “A Bridge Under Water” and the titular tale, we’re privy to the complicated nature of these relationships almost instantly, which allows everyone – Bissell and the reader alike – to more quickly dig into the meat of the matter.

There’s something slyly subversive about many of these stories as well; while some are fairly overt about the ideological challenges they present, Bissell also finds ways to fold subtler concepts into the proceedings. And perhaps most importantly, they all succeed as stories – they’re beautifully crafted and narratively compelling even as they wade into deeper philosophical waters.

“Creative Types” is precisely what you hope to get when you dive into a collection of short fiction – a vast and varied spectrum of stories, all connected by intelligence, wit and a distinctive voice. Tom Bissell is one of the best in the business; this book is a reflection of that excellence.

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 December 2021 08:04


The Maine Edge. All rights reserved. Privacy policy. Terms & Conditions.

Website CMS and Development by Links Online Marketing, LLC, Bangor Maine