Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"There's Something I Want You to Do," by Charles Baxter

Charles Baxter is one of the leading American writers today, although I don’t think he gets the credit or reputation he deserves. I read and liked (and posted about here on 3/22/10) his novel “The Feast of Love”; I have also read some of his short stories. His new story collection, “There’s Something I Want You to Do” (Pantheon, 2015), mainly set in Minneapolis, does what every story collection should do: Every story is a mini-masterpiece, in which something important happens, big or small, and we are caught up in the story. As the title suggests, there is usually something someone wants someone else to do, and those specific words are even sometimes used: “There is something I want you to do.” Everything springs from those situations. There are some characters that appear in several of the stories, and our encountering them more than once enriches our knowledge of them, but each story stands alone. Some of the stories are very touching, very sad, yet there is always something positive as well, and that something is usually human kindness. I don’t mean that the characters are all saints, not at all, but there is a thread of human caring, human connection, throughout the book. There are stories of love – gay and straight -, marriage, divorce, children, jobs, money problems, departures, illnesses, and other events, but always with an original yet believable take on the situation. In at least three cases, someone rescues someone else; in two of these cases, an “ex” comes to the rescue of the former love, illustrating the centrality of human kindness and caring, even when it is for someone once but no longer loved.

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