Thursday, April 1, 2010

Things We Didn't See Coming, Steven Amsterdam

(I had a few days off earlier this month and got to do quite a bit of reading!)

This collection of short stories was released in February and is definitely going to get some big press. The author, Steven Amsterdam, is a native New Yorker who moved to Australia in 2003. He is youngish and it comes through in the feel of these stories: one unlike any others I can remember. I’ve read many collections before, but often it seems they are told by an older ‘voice’, usually an introspective older man or woman. In the case of my beloved Tim Winton short stories, the voice changes throughout to different people and different age ranges. These however have a snarky young voice, a male narrator, and it spins things around quite a bit as the topics are different as well. The pace is fast and the humor is biting. Amsterdam makes visual pictures of a future Australia that are brutal and painful and heartbreaking.

In “The Theft That Got Me Here”, a young man who lives with his grandparents, one of whom is suffering from Alzheimer’s, is greeted with a surprise:

…Grandma opens the door and she’s fine. She’s standing on her own, not holding the walls, nothing. She’s been off the map for six years and now she’s looking at me like a professor. Not speedy and scared, like she was on the last treatment, but simply there, her old self. And this isn’t me on drugs. It’s her on drugs.

In “Dry Land”, Australia goes through a rain cycle that doesn’t end. For years. All that dry, dusty outback becomes a series of lakes, and the rain never stops. People are forced to evacuate, and while they try to hold off, leaving becomes inevitable. The narrator observes that “Despite all the feelings we think we’ve got for our loved ones and our attachments, when push comes to shove most people figure out how to travel light.”

The author blurb on the back states that Amsterdam is a psychiatric nurse as well as an author. I’m certain that his experience in health care has made him more aware of the more subtle layers of fear and anger, those that he exposes so well in this collection. It’s not in the big details that he reveals them, but in the little details, the little inflections and asides. An unusual collection that is a fun read from someone we’re going to hear good things about!

(And since he IS in Australia, I’m counting this title in my Australian Author Challenge title count, so there! )

Special thanks to Lauren Helman with Pantheon for this Advanced Reader's Copy.


  1. Hi :-) Thanks for dropping by my blog- I love yours! I just became a follower so I'll be back. :-)

  2. I just put a hold on a library copy. You might be right about this one taking off. Odd that the library has it classified as science fiction.

    Thanks for the review.

  3. I enjoyed your review and have added this to my list. Thanks.

  4. Valerie, you know Amazon has it listed as Steampunk, which means I have to do research on that that means!

    Heather, welcome! Hope you enjoy!

  5. Thanks for dog info, on my site! I like Dutch. It is in the lead... we'll see how it goes.
    Thanks, again. Great description, too!

    Bill ;-)
    Author of "Back to the Homeplace"

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