Thursday, January 31, 2013

"In Flight Entertainment," by Helen Simpson

Helen Simpson is an astute, brilliant writer of short stories. On 12/31/12, I wrote about her collection, “In the Driver’s Seat.” Today I write about her latest collection: “In Flight Entertainment” (Knopf, 2012). Simpson appears to be writing better than ever, but the tone of her writing has darkened. Several of the stories grapple with the acceleration of climate change and its devastating effects. Further, they deal despairingly with the ignorance and resistance with which many people face this global emergency. It seems that Simpson feels she has to do something about this, through her fiction, but perhaps does not have much faith than humankind will be willing to acknowledge the problem or, especially, to make the needed changes and even sacrifices to stave off further destruction. Not all of her stories focus on this issue; there are insightful views of love and marriage, age and youth, among other themes. And I don’t mean that her stories that do so are didactic, although they verge into that territory. But they feel urgent, very urgent. I fear even as I write this that readers will be discouraged from reading these stories, feeling they will be lectured at. But I urge reading this book, not just for the author’s message, but for the intensity, vividness, and flat-out good writing to be found in these stories.

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