Short stories had never really appealed to me; I preferred full-length novels in which I could spend a lot of time with the characters and live with them for a little while. Reading Ted Chiang's Stories of your Life and Others had recently warmed me up to the genre but still not enough to get out of my way to buy collections. Then, I discovered Kenneth Radu's latest short story collection, Earthbound. I was hooked. At first, I tried my best to read only one story a day, like a box of delicious chocolate, I wanted to enjoy it for as long as possible. Turns out I'm a glutton; I read cover to cover within a few days.
The protagonists are what really riveted me to Radu's stories. Although the events they face have the potential of turning their ordinary lives into something extraordinary, their actions and reactions are well-grounded and realistic. What we consider normal behaviour becomes unexpected in the face of adversity. Although Earthbound is actually the title of one of the short stories, I believe it represents well the spirit of the collection. With their bathetic endings, the stories showcase the average Man. The reader can easily identify with the reactions and decisions of the characters. Radu brilliantly manages to create a tacit understanding between the two.
Although some of the stories have completely different settings, many of them share elements that can lead the reader to believe that all those events are happening in the same neighborhood or town, which reinforces the feeling of closeness. It made me feel like these events could have happened next door. This was something I enjoyed tremendously.
The style is simple, easy to read, yet Radu's prose is rich. There is a fair use of crude language but it's never gratuitous and never exceeds the amount most people use in every day life; it feels natural. The same goes for sex scenes. The author gives them a realistic place in the lives of the protagonists. My favorite one was a very comical scene involving a turtle in a story entitled The Ice Storm (believe me, it's not what you think.)
Radu skillfully makes the reader travel between different story layers: from present to past, to the even farther past then back to present, we eventually see the whole tale. There was only one instance of this that confused me and it was in the story called The Facts of the Matter. I eventually figured it out but at first I was confused as to what part of the story had happened to whom.
My favorite stories were Preventive Measures, Earthbound and Candles. The first I liked very much for the unexpected ending. It was very anti-climatic. The second one moved me with the humanity of the main character. Lastly, the third one had me reading fast, eager to know the outcome as soon as possible
I definitely recommend Radu's prose to anyone who likes short stories and even more so to people who don't. To me, his stories were better than some of Raymond Carver's most celebrated short stories.Pssst! I met Radu at the DC Book Launch last April. To learn more about the amazing experience this was, follow this link.