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Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules    edited by David Sedaris order for
Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules
by David Sedaris
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2005 (2005)
Paperback, Audio, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Short stories don't get much respect from the general reading public. Yet, when we begin to teach children how to appreciate the nuances of fiction, we start with short stories. It's so much easier to grasp the theme and the motives of the characters in a shorter, less complex work. The stories that David Sedaris has chosen for this book are about people who long to be accepted and loved without ever being quite sure just what to do about it. They struggle, they worry, they survive or not, and we watch with our outsider's eyes.

All fans of David Sedaris should know one fact about these stories before reading them. They are not funny. From Joyce Carol Oates' story about a woman remembering her brutal kidnapping and rape when she was a teenager to the worries of a mother with a cancer-stricken baby in Lorrie Moore's story, the reader encounters a variety of challenges to happiness or ordinary expectations. Problems are solved, lessons are learned, disappointments are suffered, or not, and life goes on. As Moore puts it, 'this is the kind of thing that fiction is: it's the unlivable life, the strange room tacked onto the house, the extra moon that is circling the earth unbeknownst to science.'

In my favorite story, 'Interpreter of Maladies' by Jhumpa Lahira, a middle-aged man is forced to confront the reality of his own loveless marriage and disappointing career during a day spent with a confusing family of expatriates who are visiting their homeland. They look like Indians to him, but they are entirely Americanized, no longer living by his rules, not even still speaking the same English.

David Sedaris tells us in his introduction that he read these stories during his break while working at a mindless job in a packing plant. They provided him with plenty to think about while he worked. We all can use a little taste of other peoples' struggles with life. We all can benefit from pondering the ways that human beings survive and carry on with their lives after misfortunes, small and large. Last but not least, since this book was published to benefit a writing and tutoring program for children, we can all feel good about buying it and helping a few children with their own life choices.

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