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American Innovations: Stories    by Rivka Galchen order for
American Innovations
by Rivka Galchen
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2015 (2014)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Short stories aren't enjoyed by everyone, but they can be nice to read in bed before going to sleep. After all, one doesn't have to think too hard about what's going to happen next the way you might if you're reading an exciting novel. At least, this has been my attitude toward short stories. However, reading American Innovations by Rivka Galchen might cause a change in that theory. The stories in this collection range from somewhat disturbing to downright bizarre, and reading one late at night might cause so much thought on the part of the reader who's trying to figure out what was meant that even the most tired brain would not relax into sleep.

The first story, The Lost Order, seems funny at first. A woman receives a phone call on her private phone that is obviously a wrong number from someone who is trying to order a meal. The caller is so obnoxious and insistent that she doesn't tell him he called the wrong number. She acts as though she's carefully making note of what he wants. Unfortunately, this call came from an unknown number, so when her husband calls her on a phone that also shows up as an unknown number, she is surprised that it isn't the man whose food hasn't been delivered. Reading on, though, we learn more about the woman and her problems as the calls keep coming from both men.

In some of the stories, such as Real Estate and Once an Empire, reality seems to have taken a holiday. A woman who is staying in the empty apartment building owned by her aunt meets a man who is also living there. Or is he? Why does she suddenly encounter a man who is so much like her father that she almost believes that he is her father? The problem is that her father is dead. When a young woman sees her furniture and other belongings crawling out the window of her beloved apartment in Once an Empire, the reader starts to think that the first sentence of this story, where the woman tells us that she is 'a pretty normal woman, even an extremely normal one' is misleading.

In short, this collection of short stories will not relax the insomniac into a good night's sleep. I'm still trying to figure out what was intended by the flight of the woman's furniture.

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