Carleigh Baker, Bad Endings
The publishing genre of "short story collection" is always under pressure, and for what are normally presumed to be good capitalist reasons. Just like the death of the album came in part from consumers' sense that structurally they were almost always going to be padded with weak songs to enable the sale of the artists' few good ideas, readers worry that not every story in a collection is worth their time.
Now, I think of myself as a short-story reader (as well as a short story-reader), but when I went back through my posts here, to my great surprise I found only a few collections over the last four years. Some of these collections I've really enjoyed, like Take Me to Your Chief, by Drew Hayden Taylor, or D.W. Wilson's Once You Break a Knuckle: some, not so much, like Daniel Griffin's Stopping for Strangers. But in any case, I didn't expect that I didn't know how much my reading has been dominated by novels and (especially) nonfiction, with a leavening of poetry. Indeed, I'm genuinely annoyed that even a self-described aficionado of the short-story collection doesn't read many of them.
Carleigh Baker's Bad Endings will, I think, keep reminding me of the necessity of these collections. (Commitment: I'll try to read and review a different collection every month, so please hit me up with suggestions!)
The title of the volume--Bad Endings--is a useful one, because it reminds you that the short story form is itself something special. The payoff can come every few pages, if you're product-focused, but this doesn't mean that the reading process is necessarily shortchanged. Instead, it's possible with these books that you can get the full expansive, explosive, readerly experience every ten or so pages, and in the case of Bad Endings, you do.
Honestly, I'm not even to choose a favourite piece or provide any analysis. These stories are ripping good yarns, welcome / unwelcome windows into the psyches of people uncomfortably like / unlike you, and provocatively jarring in how consistently successful is the way they leave you the job of recognizing consequences or implications.
Buy it, read it, buy it for someone else. Bad Endings deserves all the appreciation it's been getting over the last twelve months!
Literary-political ending: Not every story needs to be a novel, and if you don't want everything episodic or nugget-like in its length to be a Netflix series, then short stories and their writers need your support.
Reviewerly ending: I don't trust very many other reviewers or reviews, but for this book I appreciated Kathryn Kuitenbrower's thoughts, and Brett Josef Grubisic's (though he's a reviewer with whom I've explicitly disagreed before). However, Aaron Schneider's deep dive into the book for The Rusty Toque is one of the most thoughtful, generous reviews I've seen in a long time.
Readerly ending: I was so disappointed, on finishing Bad Endings, that I wasn't going to get any more endings just now from Baker. You owe it to yourself to share these endings with her, and to share them with other readers whose senses of humour and existential angst you appreciate.