Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory
Ben Loory’s collection Tales of Falling and Flying (2017) falls into that category of “just not for me” books, meaning this will be a relatively brief take on the collection. It’s the sort of writing where I can see where some people would enjoy it, can note the author’s talent, can acknowledge the wit and bright originality, but overall it just doesn’t do it for me. In this case, it begins with my being a tough audience for short stories, as I tend to prefer full, rich immersion in story and character — aspects too often lacking in most stories I’ve found. Loory’s tales double-down on this as they’re all pretty short, not quite Lydia Davis short but nearly: almost 40 stories in just over 200 pages. So it’s basically in and out and on to the next.
That’s not to say some of these stories don’t have concepts or endings that you might linger over. A few do have a nice punch to them at moments, and some sneak up on you with a surprising level of depth or insight. And as noted, there’s a lot of creativity here in terms of premises: a sloth going off to find a job, a squid trying to fly to the sun, a pair of aliens whose First Contact is with an ostrich, and so on. And Loory’s stories veer off from these clever premises in often surprising ways (none of which I’ll detail so as to save the surprise). But while they were enjoyable enough, and clever, cute at times, funny at others, and as mentioned had the occasional “let me think more about that” moment, none really struck me or grabbed me in narratively, the style/language never really startled me (I didn’t highlight any lines), and they had a bit of a sameness to them despite the out-there concepts. To be fair, one would probably go a long way toward ameliorating that last issue simply by not reading the collection straight through as I did. Still, I can’t say that I’ll remember any of these stories for any length of time beyond the funny set-ups in a few of them.
If you’re a fan of minimalism, Davis, or absurdism, then you might want to pick Tales of Falling and Flying up and check out the first few stories in the store or library to see what you think. If you’re a fan of writers like George Saunders or Steven Millhauser (as I am), and think you might like their stories greatly streamlined and a bit lighter (as I did not), you also might want to give a shot. I found these to be lesser tales (though I’d be interested in reading a longer story by Loory), but I can see how others might thoroughly enjoy them, if not all at once.
But, but — space-faring squid!
When it comes to Loory’s short fiction, I can always think of people who might enjoy it, but I’m not on the list.