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Literature & Fiction

Thirst - Ken Kalfus


Author: Ken Kalfus
Book title: Thirst
ISBN: 0671034820
ISBN13: 978-0671034825
Publisher: Washington Square Press (September 1, 1999)
Language: English
Category: Short Stories & Anthologies
Rating: 4.9/5
Votes: 180
Pages: 205 pages
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In "the story collection of the year" (Paper magazine), Ken Kalfus mines a vast terrain of geography and metaphor to create a stunning series of portraits of people caught in the seismic collision of cultures, be they real, hallucinated, dreamed, or desired. With his "magical, transformative, and captivating" (Boston Book Review) mix of fantasy and dark humor, Kalfus has crafted an extraordinary collection that is, by turns, hilarious, mysterious, and touching.
Reviews: (7)
I thank two previous reviews - metamentor and Ginger Mekala - for enticing me to try this enjoyable volume. Kalfus is an excellent writer who includes a variety of approaches to the short stories that make up this volume.
No Grace on the Road explores the tension between tradition and "modern Western" in an unnamed, third world Asia country. The narrator is among the privileged, married to an American. Their vehicle fails in a storm and they are forced to seek shelter with a poor peasant family with a dying child.
Invisible Malls is a delightful spoof on Calvino's Invisible Cities.
Notice is a story in the form of the legalese and copyright notices that appear at the beginning of every book.
The Joy and Melancholy Baseball Trivia Quiz are human sketches introduced by baseball trivia questions such as who hit the most consecutive fouls.
Cats in Space follows youthful animal abuse to the recognition of the "play" as cruel - in this case sending a kitten up in a helium balloon powered gondola.
Whether returning from a trip to Bulgaria, buying a suit, imaging adultery, being confronted with the thirst of the desert - each of the tales succeeds - a remarkable feat given their variety.
This volume is well worth your time
Ken Kalfus is an excellent writer. The range of stories in this book, combined with the grace and style with which they are written, demonstrate that. He can hop from setting to setting, and from style to style, and executes each with aplomb.
However, I will note that in this collection, while there is breadth, there isn't necessarily depth. This is a tasty candy, a frothy confection that dazzles. But it's not a meal. I felt the the emotional life of the characters was not as complex as the situations he set up demanded. There was a sense that the writing came first, the story after.
But this is a first book, and I certainly look forward to seeing him develop. The book is smart, funny, and beautifully written.
Great collection of stories. I first read Ken Kalfus' book "Equilateral". That book struck me hard - big themes about East vs. West, ambition vs. the public good, science vs faith, etc. This is a book of about 12-15 short stories, and each one manages to fit big themes into a few pages.

There were a few stories in here that pushed the limits of my patience - stories on obscure subjects that seemed to be obscure just for the sake of being obscure. But generally the stories touched on general themes - marriage, love, etc - that will resonate with a lot of people.
These were stories full of imagination, rich language, and memorable situations. Kalfus creates compelling situations, some that are truly "fabulous", but no less interesting, even entrancing.
It's so easy
The fourteen stories here (all previous published in various lit reviews) display an amazing range of styles and a great deal of promise. There is whimsical comedy is the opening two and half page "Notice" and in the faux records of "The Joy and Melancholy Baseball Trivia Quiz". There is a liberal dose of fantastical elements, such as the never-ending snowstorm of "The Weather in New York", the mysterious nomads of "A Line Is A Series of Points", or the dual-existence protagonist of "Night and Day You Are the One." There is also the unfortunately presence of the literary joke story "Invisible Malls" (a pastiche of the Italian writer Calvino's Invisible Cities), and a weak meaning semi-historical Borgesian effort "The Republic of St. Mark, 1849."
Kalfus's more "realistic" stories are equally uneven. The stories "Bouquet" and "Thirst" cover an encounter in Paris between an Irish nanny and an Moroccan, and are totally run-of-the-mill. The longest story is "No Grace On the Road" (at 40+ pages), a very awkwardly done story set in Vietnam about a young upper-class official caught in a storm out in the countryside with his American wife, and forced to shelter in a peasant's hovel, where a baby lies dying. It's a really clumsy piece, worthy of a college freshman writing class. On the positive side of the ledger, the brief "Cats in Space" is a simple and haunting story of kids being cruel to neighborhood animals. "Suit" is another short but sweet piece, about a boy being fitted for a suit for a court appearance. "Rope Bridge" is probably the most conventional story in the collection, concerning a man who lusts after a vivacious friend of his wife. But Kalfus treats the material with care and simplicity, creating an exquisite short work.
So, a typical first collection of very good pieces and some very bad pieces, with an atypical range of of styles and settings.
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