There are books which take the reader away to a magical place and books that evoke the magic that already exists within a reader. There are books that make one think and books that help one dream, books that inform and instruct, books that change with each reading and books that remain sturdy constants over the decades.
Then there are books like this one: a little bit of everything noted above and yet entirely different from any expectations those descriptions might evoke. I have never before run into a writer quite like Ben Loory. I tend to plow through collections and anthologies in great big gulps, not one story at a time; but Loory’s quiet, precise style forced me to stop after each story to think. I often re-read the stories, trying to figure out what the hell he was getting at, if anything. I’m not too proud to admit he lost me more often than not. I’m absolutely positive there’s a point to each and every story, but nailing it down is like trying to staple jelly to a board.
Often, abstract stories like the ones in this collection strike me as pretentious; Loory neatly avoids that trap. The stories are fuzzy-edged and yet tantalizing, blending nonsense and realism with remarkable integrity. For example, in the story “The Octopus”, an octopus has moved into a boarding house in a major city by the sea. He collects spoons and drinks tea; one day, two of his nephews decide to leave the ocean and come for a rout of the city. The entire premise is deliberately ridiculous, the writing detached–the octopus is called “Uncle Harley” by its nephews, but elsewhere is referred to only as “the octopus”–there are no quotation marks to set off speech, the story is in present tense–in short, every rule that I know of for “proper” structure is bent or broken or turned inside out.
And it works. The story manages to be evocative and sad and thought-provoking and magical all at once, and left me needing a rest before tackling the next tale. The stories all follow the same basic format–present tense, detached style, no quotes–all things that normally drive me nuts but which I barely noticed in this instance.
Between the opening story, “The Book”, in which a woman buys a book only to find it has no words within, and the closing story, “Hadley”, in which a guard loses a prisoner, lies a journey that will take you inside yourself to search for meaning and provide answers to questions you hadn’t ever thought to ask. Getting more specific than that would actually ruin the reading experience for this book. Part of my delight in each story came from not having the faintest idea where Loory would stop the tale; the twists he laces into each tale are thoroughly unpredictable and unconventional and yet, as I just said, they work.
Now, given that I do have a limited appetite for this type of abstract writing, I won’t be rushing out to fill my shelf with more of Loory’s books right now. But based on Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, I will absolutely recommend his writing, and read more of it, whenever the chance and the time (respectively) comes around.
Ben Loory’s Web site may be found here.
(Penguin Books, 2011)