Contemporary short stories enacting giddy, witty revenge on the documents that define and dominate our lives.
In our bureaucratized culture, we’re inundated by documents: itineraries, instruction manuals, permit forms, primers, letters of complaint, end-of-year reports, accidentally forwarded email, traffic updates, ad infinitum. David Shields and Matthew Vollmer, both writers and professors, have gathered forty short fictions that they’ve found to be seriously hilarious and irresistibly teachable (in both writing and literature courses): counterfeit texts that capture the barely suppressed frustration and yearning that percolate just below the surface of most official documents. The innovative stories collected in Fakes—including ones by Ron Carlson (a personal ad), Amy Hempel (a complaint to the parking department), Rick Moody (Works Cited), and Lydia Davis (a letter to a funeral parlor)—trace the increasingly blurry line between fact and fiction and exemplify a crucial form for the twenty-first century.
Cleverness abounds in the 40 subversions of terms of service, disclaimers, how-to manuals, self-help books, catalogue copy, legal documents, and other quotidian genres. The editors have found some gems, such as Lorrie Moore's hilarious and moving "How to Become a Writer" (which begins: "First, try to be something, anything, else") and Amy Hempel's deeply ironic letter to the New York City Parking Violations Bureau contesting a ticket. In "This Is Just to Say That I'm Tired of Sharing an Apartment with William Carlos Williams," Laura Jayne Martin supplies a laugh-out-loud gloss on one of the celebrated poet's most famous imagist works. And Kari Anne Roy's "Chaucer Tweets the South by Southwest Festival" ("Wat ho, goatee'd man? Thy skinnee genes hath byrn'd my corneyas") is hilarious. Some pieces are surprisingly moving, such as Kevin Wilson's faux glossary "The Dead Sister Handbook: A Guide for Sensitive Boys" and Rick Moody's clever "Primary Sources," a bibliography with footnotes that examine the books, articles, and recordings that have impacted his life. But many go on too long. The joke of Jonathan Safran Foer's "About the Typefaces Not Used in This Edition" is mostly contained in the title. Like most anthologies, this one's hit or miss, though the hits are very good indeed.