The first two stories in Neil Smith’s short story collection Bang Crunch were so punch-in-the-gut good that it caused me a bit of anxiety. Could he keep up this stellar pace? What if he does? What if the entire collection is this good? Will my heart be able to take it?
The first story “Isolettes” about two friends who decide to have a baby only to have it born at 26 weeks was so good that once I finished reading the story, I nodded my head and said “Damn” right out loud. The story is so sweet and sad you have to say something. Plus it has a wonderful ending. I don’t want to give it away but the last paragraph will really stick in your craw. It’s vivid and heartbreaking and the kind of story I want someone I know to read so I can talk to them about it.
Smith has got endings down. It is easily the most impressive thing about this collection. Even in the so awful I can’t believe he included it “Extremities” (told from the point of view of a pair of gloves and a severed foot, trust me it’s not even as clever as it sounds) the ending is pretty damn good.
Endings are tough and anyone who can nail them deserves your attention. Which is why I plodded through the gloves story. When you get the book, skip it. Everything else in the collection is so strong that it more than makes up for that one clunker.
Smith populates his stories with alcoholic dermatologists, may-be-gay teens, actors, artists, designers, a random pair of gloves, and a girl who ages a month for every day she lives (which was just a bit too Max Tivoli for me). What all these characters have in common is that they all seem to be searching for their place in the world. Who isn’t, right?
But Smith’s characters search in a way more interesting and moving manner than the rest of us who just bumble through which is why this collection is such a good read.