2011 Book 3: The Bigness of the World

So you’re looking to read a story about dissatisfied lesbian English professors ending their relationship in an exotic location? Well, has Lori Ostlund got a half-dozen stories for you!

That’s probably a little harsh, because the eleven stories included in The Bigness of the World truly are beautifully written, but so many of the stories carried the same theme that it almost felt like a waste of time reading. But then some gorgeous phrase would come along and change my mind. Ostlund’s a terrific writer, no doubt, but I wish she’d changed up her subject matter more often—because when she did the results were dazzling.

My favorite story was the final story, “All Boy,” which was chosen for the 2010 Best American Short Stories after appearing in the New England Review. I felt connected to the main character, Harold, more than any other. He’s a young boy struggling to make friends despite his unpopular love of books and language, often misunderstanding social cues and slang. And the conflict (he and his father dealing with different sorts of closets) is striking and heartbreaking.

My second favorite was “And Down We Went,” which is available online at Five Chapters. It was probably the best of the breakup stories…and hey, it makes fantastic use of bird shit.

Overall? An enjoyable, if somewhat predictable, read. I’m happy to have it on my bookshelf.


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