The Emerald Light in the Air – book review

I just read The Emerald Light in the Air by Donald Antrim. I must give a shout-out to my hubby for gifting me this book for Christmas. In the winter, I love to read collections of essays and short stories. In the summer, I want longer reads. Why? I don’t know. This book was so interesting and well crafted. But I can tell by the 3.6 rating on Good Reads that it’s not for everyone. I can say with full confidence; it’s not for everyone. But I totally dug it.

Each story in The Emerald Light in the Air appeared in the New Yorker between 1999-2014. The stories have both a contemporary and, at the same time, older feel. I think because they weren’t so tied to technology or brands. I know that’s a way to earmark times, but I think the effect makes it more timeless.

My favorite of the stories was the first in the collection, An Actor Prepares. I could have sworn I heard it read on Selected Shorts, but I can’t find it in the archives. Maybe it just has the feel of a great Selected Short. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a radio show with actors reading short fiction live on stage. I love listening to it. This story’s quirkiness occurs at a small liberal arts college, with the Dean of Students/great-great-grandson of the founder, who decides to cast himself in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He describes himself as “a skinny, blading, unmarried, childless forty-six-year-old Lysander—a PhD with hair in his back.” The absurdity of what follows is pure magic, especially with a narrator telling the story as if it’s all a justifiable act. Seriously Selected Shorts! This is so up your alley.

The other stories range from a man struggling with his mental health who attempts to buy his wife some flowers (which broke my heart), a man figuring out his role as the new boyfriend to a woman with a child as he writes not good poetry in a notebook, to a man who keeps quoting his ex-girlfriend as the work party of his current girlfriend. There are seven stories in the collection. Each takes a deep dive into a world that is dark and way too human. Hope appears on the horizon, but it doesn’t have the bitter taste of being tied up in an overly saccharine bow. Which again, I dig

I love characters who are human in all the worst and best ways. They’re all a bit messed in the head and evoke feelings at different points in your brain and heart. And, I’m not asked as a reader to want to fix them. But, as a reader, I did want to shake them a few times and yell, “what are you thinking?”

In short, if you like a bit of a challenge in your winter reading, this is a great book. If you want happy, sugar-filled cream puffs, this isn’t is. Have you ever read his work? Did you like it? Do you know if Selected Shorts has performed An Actor Prepares? Do you know anyone over there who can make that happen? Richard Kind or Mandy Patinkin would be perfect as the reader.

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