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The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories

The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories - Steve Almond I don't know whether the stories in this collection just got better towards the end, or whether Steve Almond's style grew on me. It would be interersting to know who decided the B.B. Chow story should be the title- it isn't the best story here by a long shot. That distinction would go to I Am as I Am. I started off reviewing all the stories, but it is clear that would make this overlong and uninteresting. Here are the highlights, as I see them:I Am as I Am- Don't ask me where the title comes from. This is a soulful tale of the suffering a boy inflicts on himself after accidentally killing a schoolmate. Up to this point in the collection, the stories all had a humerous side. This one made me take Steve Almond seriously. I have no direct experience with the subject matter, but I can believe Mr Almond might; the exploration of the boys' friendship preceeding the accident, as well as how the other children viewed the deceased is heartwrenching.The Evil B.B. Chow gives a short account of Chow's courtship of a girl, and explains how it is that he is evil. The story is so-so. Yeah, B.B. Chow is a dick. This was an interesting character study, and when you find out what Chow was up to, it makes you go back and reexamine everything up to that point in the story.The Soul Molecule - Protagonist has brunch with the long-lost family who used to live down the street from where he grew up. Their conversation gradually reveals everybody in the family believes they were victims of a UFO abduction. He leaves, sorry to see how crazy they have become (...or were they? Dum dum DUMMMMM!!!!!) Actually, I don't think Almond was going for the Rod Serling story here. I think he was going for that sad realization each of us occasionally faces when we realize we've idealized or glamourized elements of our past beyond what they deserved. Appropriate Sex is a short thumbnail sketch of a college English professor, as he observes the various students in his class. It feels more like a writing exercise than a story. Almond establishes some interesting people, including the girl who only likes to have "inappropriate" sex (e.g. with her college professors). He even gets the ball moving in this direction, and then pulls the plug. Unsatisfying as a short story; could've been a good "Letters to Penthouse" if he would have continued.Larsen's Novel was the funniest of the lot. I actually laughed out loud at excerpts of Larsen's inept and self-congratulatory novel. Some of it reminded me of the science fiction novel Steven Colbert is always promoting on his show (I forget the whole title, but the main character's name is Tek Jenssen, who is transparently modeled after Colbert) Almond could have played the whole novel off for laughs, but instead gave Larsen's novel depth by showing it in the greater context of Larsen's life. He's middle aged, his marriage is on the rocks, his kids are brats and he has a hard time connecting with his best friend. The novel is a surreal expression of the life he longs for, where he's loved and respected. I wonder whether this story is based on Almond himself, or maybe one of his author friends.Skull Here's another one that Almond could have played for either juvenile laughs or shock value. Instead, he treated it tenderly and made it something special. This story is only about ten pages long, yet he's developed the characters well enough that you really care about them. I would not have forgiven Almond if he made this whole subject a big frat-boy joke; and he didn't. This is artful writing.