I really love Kevin Brockmeier’s writing. In fact, I’d probably go as far to say that his short story “The Ceiling” would make my list of the Ten Best Short Stories Ever. It’s a bold statement and I am prepared to back it up.
I recently read the Things That Fall From the Sky, a collection of Brockmeier’s short stories and I was stunned. I can’t remember the last time I read a collection of stories from one author that was this uneven. It’s really surprising to find incomprehensible garbage next to really beautiful and original stories.
This collection includes the mind-blowing “The Ceiling” about a man who finds out his wife is having an affair and a weird ceiling that is descending on the town where they live. That sentence doesn’t come anywhere close to doing that story justice.
“Apples” is another story included in the collection that lives up to “The Ceiling’s” standards. In this story a teenage boy gets his first kiss the day his bible school teacher is killed in class. There is a scene in this story about prepositions that will leave you breathless.
But for every Apples or Ceiling there’s a “The Jesus Stories” or “Half a Rumplestiltskin.” Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. Now that I look back at the table of contents, there were only a few stories that I actively disliked, and only a few that left me feeling a bit meh. But I think that “The Jesus Stories” was so bad that it has blocked out all the other fair to good stories. I remember that while reading that story I kept chanting “what the fuck? what the fuck? what the fuck?” in my head. Plus, I had a really tough time with “The House at the End of the World” the final story of the collection. In that story, a four-year-old girl lives out in the wilderness with her dad. In the story the dad breaks his arm and the girl has to spend weeks doing all the chores and whatnot to keep the household going. Yeah. Right. Maybe it’s because I was reading that story while living with a four year old but come on. They have the attention span of a flea and there’s no way, just no way they’d do all the chores like that. Not possible, even in the land of fiction.
This book has multiple personality disorder. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. The uneveness of the stories really puzzled me. I have come to the conclusion that when you’re a writer like Brockmeier who takes a lot of risks in your writing, not all of them are going to pan out. Which, I guess, is okay when the brilliant outshines the not so brilliant.