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9780143177678_cover Enlarge Cover
3.5 of 5
3 ratings
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rated!
list price: $19.95
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
category: Fiction
published: April 2012
ISBN:9780143177678

Better Living Through Plastic Explosives

by Zsuzsi Gartner

reviews: 1
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literary
3.5 of 5
3 ratings
rated!
rated!
list price: $19.95
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
category: Fiction
published: April 2012
ISBN:9780143177678
Description

From an emerging master of short fiction and one of Canada’s most distinctive voices, a collection of stories as heartbreaking as those of Lorrie Moore and as hilariously off-kilter as something out ofMcSweeney's.

Better Living through Plastic Explosives is a powerful depth charge of Zsuzsi Gartner's trademark dark humour and deadly satire. Whether she casts her eye on evolution and modern manhood when an upscale cul-de-sac is thrown into chaos after a redneck moves into the neighbourhood, international adoption, war photography, real estate, the movie industry, motivational speakers, or terrorism, Gartner filets the righteous and the ridiculous with dexterity in equal, glorious measure. These stories ruthlessly expose our covert fears and fathomless desires and allow us to snort with laughter—at the grotesque world we’d live in if we all got what we wanted.

 

Contributor Notes

ZSUZSI GARTNER is the author of the critically acclaimed and bestselling story collection All the Anxious Girls on Earth and the editor of Darwin's Bastard's: Astounding Tales from Tomorrow. She is the winner of a 2007 National Magazine Award for Fiction and the recipient of numerous awards for her magazine journalism. Her second collection of short stories, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, was shortlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize. She lives in Vancouver.

Editorial Review

“Zsuzsi Gartner’s writing is dazzling, effortless, and clear as a bell. She’s able to crystallize a cultural moment in a way entirely her won that is both instantaneous and eternal. I couldn’t let go of it and read it all in one go.” - Douglas Coupland

“Gartner has outdone herself with Better Living Through Plastic Explosives. She will garner a fistful of award nominations, more than a few fireworks and maybe even some hang-up phone calls.” - Winnipeg Free Press

"Gartner’s sentences are … expansive, polished and dense with flecks and speckles of dark and light. She can go from sardonic to plangent, wry to heartfelt.” - The Globe and Mail

“Superb…. Gartner’s attentiveness to the artificial gives her prose a laser-like sharpness and precision.” - National Post

“What crazy, wonderful writing this is—hilarious, exuberant, apocalyptic, heart-stopping. Gartner sees all, dissects all, loves all. An absolutely irresistible collection.” - Barbara Gowdy

“Zsuzsi Gartner’s new collection of short stories is as smart, satiric, playful and wicked as her previously acclaimed and bestselling book, ALL THE ANXIOUS GIRLS ON EARTH.” - Janet Somerville

“[Better Living Through Plastic Explosives] shows the short story form at its savage best, each story capturing, with brilliant economy and grace, not only entire worlds but whole mindsets as they explode into eloquence. Gartner is one of the supreme noticers in contemporary fiction, and with this book she has produced a rare work of wisdom and laughter.” - 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury

“[Gartner] drills into your brain with amazing images and a snappy delivery that verges on inciting mental whiplash. What a ride! … Gartner is fall-out-of-your-chair funny, but the hilarity has a splendid whack of asperity to it for a great combination. The 10 stories in this book are wonderfully various and humorously satirical … Her send-up of idiotic earnestness is so refreshing, I can’t wait for the next collection.” - Vancouver Sun

“With her second collection of short stories, Zsuzsi Gartner has delved far underground, taken its seismic measure, and returned to give us the report … Dark, sinister, scary? Yes, but Gartner’s skill in the telling is thrilling. I’m a new fan of Gartner. I really liked All the Anxious Girls on Earth … But in Better Living Though Plastic Explosives, Gartner goes darker, deeper, and funnier. Her new stories are more trenchant, more satirical, more surreal. At the same time, Gartner still manages to evoke great empathy for characters and their sad, sad lives. Reading this book, I despaired … But I also felt exhilarated, the same exhilaration I felt when first reading Vonnegut and Barthelme and, more recently, George Saunders.” - Winnipeg Review

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Reader Reviews

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Better living a promising piece

Better Living through Plastic Explosives promised exactly what I was hoping for. This drôle repartée of "dystopian utopia" and "utopian dystopia" is narrated through what I am becoming to identify as the satirical signature ramblings of Vancouver authors. Seamlessly knitting reality with fiction, Gartner creates some kind of horrific-hilarious magic realism. One that instead of escapism, forces us to laugh at our own tragic existence, all underlined with a spooky shadow of accurate soothsaying.

Gartner reels us in, through accurate descriptions of vivid images we have seen and experienced for ourselves, and then takes a twist and turn. Extrapolates from the glimmer of light that flashes through our eyes, catches one of our fleeting thoughts, and then instantly projects a tangent a million miles off into space, to show us what it would look like if we had run with it.

For example, in the fifth story, Ancient Chinese Daughters Rebellion, she describes the adoption process and rearing of several Chinese girls in her neighbourhood. She explains how the families have allowed the girls to continue with their heritage, including “appropriate” Chinese names, Chinese holidays, language classes and foot binding. Gartner describes how the biological daughter of the family is caught pretending to have a Chinese name, and taping her eyelids back into slits. They forbid Christmas celebrations, and encourage chopstick usage, all the while having the girls hobble around with bound feet. She takes a situation, finds the hypocrisy or paradox, and then untangles it, holding it up for all to see. Kind of like when your landlord proudly marches back into your living room holding an enormous clump he’s pulled out of your drain: “THERE! That’s why it was stuck!”

And then you just kind of have to continue staring at the clump, horrified and embarrassed, and, if you are like me, probably laughing, because there isn’t really much else you can do in those situations. Learn, and hope to do better next time.

Gartner also goes to great lengths to describe what would happen if we acted on our impulses. If we overcame the staunch little invisible cubicles that keep us divided in cities. What would happen if we befriended the hairy, giant truck driving new neighbour, if we spoke our minds or cut in front of the check out line.

It’s an uncomfortable satire. It’s so painfully Vancouver.

The dear friend who lent me this book actually had it as one of their book discussion choices. One of the big questions that came out in their discussion was on where Gartner was to offer political commentary, or mock it. Whether she revered this west coast set of morals and ideals, or whether she was trying to reject them. Or if her mockery was making a mockery of mockery–a commentary on cultural commentary itself. I think that ultimately, Gartner was trying to do none of those things, but rather was trying simply to hold up a mirror. Like the banter of a little sister, pointing out the good things and the bad. Saying some things that aren’t true, just to see how they resonate, to gauge our reaction. Tossing out insults and fantasy, and the odd thing strikes home and cuts deep. Leaving you with an unintentional wound to mull over. One that leaves you pondering how accidental it truly was.

That without work, there is little return. This is how growth happens. It is rarely in the kind moments, when you are getting along happily with other people that you are forced to push yourself to overcome stigmas and communication hurdles and really grow. It’s when you are clashing. I’ve always thought that having two sisters forced me through a lot of personal growth, but it was our fighting and arguments that really give rise to personal development. It is when you are arguing over the last cookie, the pink bike, that you learn to share, to compromise and empathize, to heal. And it hurts. Growing hurts. Fighting hurts. Learning hurts. But ultimately they are the most rewarding things in the world. They are imperative in life. And so, although the mirror that Gartner holds up for us is ugly, living through plastic explosives is sometimes necessary.

A tragically hilarious read.

Original review posted at:
http://katiclops.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/better-living-through-plastic-explosives/

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Darwin's Bastards

Darwin's Bastards

Astounding Tales From Tomorrow
edited by Zsuzsi Gartner
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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