book review: the surf guru

Doug Dorst’s The Surf Guru is a good collection of contemporary short stories. The best ones are funny, but nothing really changed my life.

One of them is about a controlling-personality woman who goes kind of wacko when she loses a wedding cake job (she’s a pastry chef). Another is about a quack doctor who’s treating Vincent Can Gogh. There’s also a collection of biographical sketches of botanists by a cantankerous botanist compiled by the son of the cantankerous botanist’s ex-wife (both ex-wife and son are also botanists). That was probably the funniest in tone of all the pieces, but the footnotes in one of the biographical sketches were either done from the wrong point of view or they were clumsily suggesting an alternative explanation for what was going on. It’s hard to say, as this was an advance uncorrected proof, so there might be more editing to do. Two stories were about the same fuckup characters, one story them on the road, and the other about them before they left. Those were my least favourite, apart from the really short one about firecrackers.

They were all decent stories about people who were on the edges of things and weren’t ever going to find their ways to anything important, so the whole thing had a bit of sadness hanging over it. I don’t agree with the backmatter text that calls Dorst “a Northern California Haruki Murakami,” or buy into him being “one of the most creative, original literary voices of his generation.” The stories are good. I’ll read more by Dorst if it’s set in front of me, but I’m not going to go hunting his previous novel down or anything.

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