Hippo Manchester
August 25, 2005


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B.B. Chow is evil

Candyfreak’s Almond returns to short stories

By Nathan Graziano

The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories, by Steve Almond, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005, 233 pages.

In Steve Almond’s story “Appropriate Sex,” a college writing instructor sagely instructs his undergraduate students — a motley mix of pot-smokers, over-sexed vixens, fundamentalist Christians and aspiring scribes — to “root out the truth, to never avert their eyes.” One gets the impression that Almond, a writing teacher at Boston College, has discarded the thin veil of fiction here.

In The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories, Almond seems to be doing exactly what his character prescribes, rooting out the truths that lie quietly in human relationships. In this pursuit Almond is vastly successful, showing readers the truth — or at least posing questions that bring them closer to it — in both its radiance and ugliness.

In any good collection of stories there are subtle thematic threads that tie together the work. For Almond, the main thread seems to be the existential crisis of how we human beings struggle to make meaningful connections with others in our friendships and intimate relationships. From a love-wearied creative director at a women’s magazine in the title story to an insecure dentist trying to drudge it through his best friend’s novel manuscript in “Larsen’s Novel” to Abraham Lincoln (that’s right, the 16th president makes an appearance in “Lincoln, Arisen”), these characters find themselves hungry and, sometimes, desperate to give meaning to their relationships, to find the truth in what stands in front of us. Almond writes this with empathy, compassion and a fool-proof sense of the way people speak, think and carry on.

If you’re looking for a collection of stories about buildings blowing up, high-speed car chases or courtroom drama, this isn’t your thing. This is a collection of human stories that range from funny to heart-wrenching. The final story, “Skull,” is guaranteed to sate any desire one might have for the perverse. The prose itself is clear, clean, fluid and, at its best, artful. Almond’s writing shucks much of the pretension that makes a lot of “literary” fiction indigestible. 

As with most collections of short fiction, there are misfires. However, Almond’s triumphs far overshadow the forgettable. He does use a number of pop-culture references, which always beg questions about a book’s shelf life; however, it’s often best to let history sort those things out for itself.

The Evil B.B. Chow, has the same humor, sexiness and wit as Almond’s first collection, My Life in Heavy Metal, but now Almond — also the author of the nonfiction Candyfreak — shows a wider range of content as well as a matured voice and worldview. Much like the undergraduate workshop writers in “Appropriate Sex,” Steve Almond heeds his own call to root out the truth and does it, for the most part, masterfully here.