"You Must Be This Happy To Enter"
(Reviewed by Tony Ross JUN 1, 2008)
I haven't read either of Crane's earlier story collections (When the Messenger is Hot and All This Heavenly Glory), but definitely get the sense from the sixteen stories here that she's got her own style, and if you liked either of those collections, you'll like this one too. Not quite sure how to describe or define that style, but her work has appeared in Nerve, The Believer, a McSweeny's anthology, and another anthology called The Best in Underground Fiction (among other places), which might help to give a sense of her sensibility. It's somewhat sharp, somewhat sweet, somewhat quirky (ugh, I hate that word), somewhat satirical, somewhat pop culture referencing, and permeates every story. In that sense, it's definitely a collection best read a story at a time, spaced out over a few weeks, otherwise the stories are liable to run together.
Some are basically, one-trick ponies, built on a single premise that can barely sustain the few pages allotted to it. For example, the first story, "My Life is Awesome! And Great!" is a rambling monologue by a woman desperately trying to convince herself of the titular statement, and every sentence of her monologue ends with an upbeat exclamation point. Like this! "Notes For A Story About People With Weird Phobias" is just that -- ten pages outlining a prospective talk show about people scared of strange stuff. In "What Happens When the Mipods Leave Their Milieu," the author of an acclaimed graphic novel about religion is hired by a university and doesn't know how to confront the assumption of irony placed upon his work.
Others are more surreal and correspondingly interesting. One of my favorites is "Clearview," about a normal small town in which everything suddenly appears transparent, clothes, buildings, everything. How that plays out, how people react, and what happens to those who can still see solid objects is really compelling and satirical. Another excellent example is "Donovan's Closet," in which a woman becomes addicted to her new boyfriend's closet. I also quite liked "Blue Girl," about a girl whose forehead becomes a fortune-telling device and the collection's titular story, about a photographer who time-travels to an era when being happy is unlawful, but still manages to find love.
On the whole, I could have lived without some of the more gimmicky stories, but there's an underlying happiness and joy to the stories that is an exceedingly refreshing antidote to the overwritten (oops, I mean carefully crafted) short fiction one tends to find in the mainstream outlets and major publishers. Definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but worth a taste just to see if you like it. Unfortunately, none of the stories are available at the author's web site, but if you poke around a little online you can probably find one or two to sample.
- Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- When the Messenger is Hot (2003)
- All This Heavenly Glory (2005)
- You Must Be This Happy To Enter (2008)
- We Only Know So Much (June 2012)
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- Official website for Elizabeth Crane
- LitPark interview with Elizabeth Crane
- BookSlut interview with Elizabeth Crane
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About the Author:
Elizabeth Crane was born and raised in New York City
Her writing has been featured in publications including Washington Square, New York Stories, Sycamore Review, Book, Florida Review, Eclipse, Bridge, Sonora Review, the Chicago Reader, Sleepwalk, the Believer, McSweeney's Future Dictionary of America, The Banana King, and All Hands On: The 2ndhand Reader.
Betsy lives in Chicago with her husband and teaches writing at Northwestern's School of Continuing Studies andThe University of Chicago.