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Book Reviews

Long Story Short

by Elyse Friedman

Toronto writer Elyse Friedman has a history of writing quirky stories. In her 1999 novel Then Again, she wrote about a bizarre family reunion in a home that had been restored to look as it did in the 1970s, complete with paid actors to portray the characters’ deceased parents. Past and present were interwoven, with an uncanny nudge-nudge-wink-wink to the thin line between life and cinema, one of Friedman’s passions and pastimes. Long Story Short continues that tradition with a collection of stories (plus one novella) that includes “The Soother,” which won a Gold National Magazine Award for fiction.

The best of the stories is the longest, “A Bright Tragic Thing.” At turns laugh-out-loud funny and devastatingly sad, the story strikes a wonderful balance between the desires of its main characters, loveable teen pothead and Internet junkie Dave and his not-so-loveable counterpart, Murray Mortenson, a desperate and drunk former TV sitcom star from the 1980s. The cult of celebrity gets raked over the coals by Friedman with salacious wit and deadpan dialogue that drips with irony.

The only trouble with the collection, however, is the sequencing. Because Long Story Short starts with the novella, the collection resembles a kind of upside-down pyramid. There’s a sense that the best stories come first, while the weaker ones are left to the end. It makes for a feeling of diminishing returns, which lessens the overall impact of the collection.