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Emperor of the Air: Stories ()

Granta Top 20 Authors Under 40

I tried reading Canin's novel Blue River several years ago and did not like it.  However, Amy Reilly urged me to give him another try, so I read this short story collection.  I remain ambivalent.  I believe that Ethan Canin will write a really good book at some point, but for now, I think he's more sizzle than steak.

I'm not much of a fan of short stories anyway.  I find that the tendency to cram some epiphany into each brief episode tends to strain credulity.  This problem becomes more pronounced if you read several stories in a row.  Canin's tales are no exception; each of these technically competent stories finds a character or set of characters confronting some pivotal moment in their lives.

Beyond this general characteristic of short stories, I found one of the themes here to be troubling.  Several times one character (a philandering father, a violent brother) tells another that he's going to grow up to be just like the speaker.  Since he mentions this concept repeatedly, I assume Canin puts some stock in it, but it flies in the face of free will & seems entirely too fatalistic. In addition, this collection came out while the author was in medical school and most of the stories include some medical condition or deformity.  After you come across the first couple, the rest seem almost gratuitous.

For me, the collection is redeemed by the title story.  Therein, an elderly man, who has recently had heart problems, becomes agitated when his callow neighbor wants him to cut down a 200 year old bug infested elm tree.  Conditioned by fare like Neighbors (Thomas Berger) and The Man Who Loved Levittown (WD Wetherell). we think we see where the stories headed, especially when the old man changes into suburban camouflage gear.  But Canin gives the story a delightful & life affirming twist.

I ended up admiring the author's craftsmanship, but not particularly liking his stories.  I will, however, read more of his stuff in the future.


Grade: (C)


Book-related and General Links:
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter of Carry Me Across the Water
    -REVIEW: of  ME AND MY BABY VIEW THE ECLIPSE By Lee Smith (Ethan Canin, NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW: Ethan Canin Discusses Writing and Medicine (ROGER COHEN, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: Ethan Canin and the Pulse of the Known (Nicholas A. Basbanes, LitKit)
    -INTERVIEW: How did Your Life Turn Out?  An interview with Ethan Canin, the author of the new novel For Kings and Planets, who believes the only story worth writing is the history of a human being (The Atlantic)
    -PROFILE: 27-Year-Old Author Bemused by Success (MERVYN ROTHSTEIN, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Intelligentsia Bankrupt (James K. Glassman, Intellectual Capital)
    -ESSAY: For Democrats, A Defining Moment (Michael Powell, Washington Post)
    -Random gossip:  Fitzgerald, Wolfe, Cheever ... Canin! (At Random Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of THE PALACE THIEF By Ethan Canin (Abby Frucht, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Palace Thief By Ethan Canin (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Palace Thief THE UNDECLARED WARS OF MEN Ethan Canin's fine stories plumb the search for male identity (CHARLES MICHENER, TIME)
    -REVIEW: of FOR KINGS AND PLANETS By Ethan Canin (Rand Richards Cooper, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVEW: of FOR KINGS AND PLANETS By Ethan Canin (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of For Kings and Planets (Alan Gottlieb, The Denver Post)
    -REVIEW: of For Kings...  Ethan Canin novel's hero wins quietly (LINDSAY HEINSEN, Houston Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of For Kings... (ELIZABETH JUDD, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of For Kings and Planets (DEREK WEILER, Eye)
    -REVIEW: of For Kings... (Randall Curb, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of BLUE RIVER By Ethan Canin (Ginger Danto, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Blue River By Ethan Canin (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of EMPEROR OF THE AIR By Ethan Canin (David Leavitt, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of EMPEROR OF THE AIR. By Ethan Canin (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -ANNOTATED REVIEWS: Canin, Ethan  Annotated Works   Batorsag and Szerelem &  We Are Nighttime Travelers (Medical Humanities, NYU)
    -REVIEW : of Carry Me Across the Water  By ETHAN CANIN (GARY KRIST, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  Carry Me Across the Water By Ethan Canin (DANIEL MENDELSOHN, New York)