Sorry Please Thank You: Stories

By Charles Yu

(Pantheon, $24.95, 240 pages)

Who is this author?

He’s smart, he’s young, he lives in L.A.  Charles Yu ‘s novel, “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe,” made the 2010 best books of the year list compiled by Time magazine. He won the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award for his 2006 story collection “Third Class Superhero,” and he’s been published in such venues as The New York Times, Playboy and Slate.

What is this book about?

Yu skillfully mines the tricky territory where fiction, fantasy, humor and irony meet and mingle. He sees the world we live in, one that is so familiar that most of us hardly notice it, and from the mundane he conjures up twists that seem at once bizarre and eminently plausible.

For example, one of the short stories in “Sorry Please Thank You” supposes a company has figured out a way to outsource mourning, by having the grief-stricken pay others to feel bereft for them. Their slogan: “Don’t feel like having a bad day? Let someone else have it for you.” It wouldn’t at all surprise me if some emotions entrepreneur isn’t already putting the finishing touches on just such a business, for real. In another, an employee battles a zombie in a big-box store, and if you don’t think they exist, you haven’t cruised around a Wal-Mart lately.

Besides creating post-modern sci-fi content, Yu also uses various forms in which to couch his fantasies. Some of these stories read like computer chats or manuals or speeches or self-help books. He obviously enjoys mind games and playing with the reader, pulling back the curtain on the hiding-in-plain-sight dark side of today’s world and the near future.

Why you’ll like it:

Yu’s ideas and techniques are fresh and provocative. Warning: some of his stories may cause the reader to suffer bewilderment, unexpected introspection, sudden epiphanies, head-scratching and fits of the giggles. In this hard-to-pin-own collection, Yu has done well and you would do well to check him out.

What others are saying:

“What Charles Yu does very well—it is a long list, but this may be its most notable entry—is to create strange and disturbingly normal alternate realities. In his first novel, “How To Live Safely In a Science Fictional Universe”…[he] took sci-fi theories and ran them through a sort of literary normalizer, applying ample wit, pop-culture references, psychological insight, metaphorical flair, and a vital sweetness. . . . In his new collection of stories, “Sorry Please Thank You,” Yu no longer constrains himself to the pre-requisites of realism—or, to be more accurate, the appearance of realism. Freed from this yoke, he takes off in every narrative direction with the glee of a school-kid released for summer vacation. . . . While Yu has drawn many comparisons to Kurt Vonnegut for his entertaining and adept satire, and to Douglas Adams for his intelligent and inventive silliness, Donald Barthelme seems an overlooked literary forebear. . . .”  says the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Says the Boston Globe: “Yu’s workman-like sentences are unexpectedly emotive, while also being almost always very funny . . . Yu’s new baker’s dozen of satiric stories tell of a future that’s really just an exaggerated present . . . Like the best science fiction writers, Yu provides seemingly gratuitous logistical information to mitigate any hint of farce . . . Yu is a master of the slow reveal. It sometimes takes pages to understand where we are and why, but as the chatty protagonists joke and confess their deepest pains, details accrue and outlines fill in. And when we are finally oriented, the universe he has created feels eerily complete . . . Cultish fans of the NBC comedy “Community,’’ this book is for you.”

“Lovely and heartfelt . . . A brilliantly manic ride . . . Yu has an undeniable gift for describing, in clean, economical prose, the mechanics of things that don’t exist or are impossible,” says The Wall Street Journal.

“Impressive . . . Charts eclectic territory, from a zombie in a megamart to a new pharmaceutical drug that generates a sense of purpose, and explores retreats from reality and emotion . . . [An] amusing send up of American consumer culture,” says Publishers Weekly.

Kirkus Reviews says: “Using various narrative strategies (though all but one of these 13 stories is written in the first person), Yu explores provisional identities (including those of a character named Charles Yu) in multiple universes, typically employing a conversational style that makes for easy reading even when the themes are troubling or the formalistic elements challenging. … A collection of playful stories that often have a dark undercurrent. Far out, man.”

When is it available?

Please find this book on the new book shelves of the Hartford Public Library’s Ropkins or Mark Twain branches, thank you.

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