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Alan Cheuse
Paradise, or Eat Your Face
Santa Fe Writer's Project
US Trade Paperback Limited Edition
ISBN 978-0-981-96619-9
Publication Date: 06-01-2012
1998 Pages; $15
Date Reviewed: 08-01-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  General Fiction

It's easy to associate action with motion and not emotion. But the actions of our emotions have every bit as much consequence as the actions of our motions. A car crash can throw you face-first through the windshield. A broken heart can make you think that's a good thing. With his latest collection of novellas, 'Paradise, or, Eat Your Face' Alan Cheuse takes his readers to Bali, to elder care, and then beyond life itself in an emotional tour of the American mindset. The stories are gripping, engaging, funny and every bit as weird as we are. Cheuse follows emotions as action, and builds powerful portraits of his characters' lives as they stride towards or find that they have already experienced passed a personal apocalypse.

In the first novella, "Paradise, or Eat Your Face," we meet troubled travel writer Susan Wheelis, who has spent her life adrift, her hand barely on the rudder to keep her from running aground. When she is assigned to travel to Bali, she has every right to think that fortune has smiled on her despite her deep and persistent unhappiness. Cheuse effortlessly immerses us in a character who is compelling and unfinished, then proceeds to finish her, so to speak, in a manner that manages to be shocking, realistic and yet tinged with the fantastic. Told with emails, therapy sessions, excerpts from articles and narrative, this story of a writer becoming a travel writer is itself a nice bit of travel writing, in place and in personality. Susan is going to seem like someone you know, someone memorable you met on a vacation, a woman whose face comes back to haunt you.

In "Care," Rafe Santera, a teacher described by his students as a "better looking Carlos Casteneda," is laid low by a stroke. The women he loved, who loved him, are lining up to provide him with care as his virtually disembodied mind skips through the past and his present and the English language like a tape recorder playing at double-speed. Cheuse's characters are full of details that bring them to life. In "Care," Rafe's complicated heritage forms a large part of the story, giving the novella a rich, textured feel as you read it. "Care" twists tighter and tighter, with flights of psychedelic poetry that beg to be read aloud.

The concluding novella, "When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears and Watered Heaven With Their Tears," is a nuanced, intense, classic American ghost story about Paul Brunce, a writer of convenience, whose chosen path has given him mid-level success and a comfy life that is easily blown up. Here Cheuse deploys his full arsenal as a writer, alternating portions of third-person narration with first person. Set in the San Francisco Bay area, he uses the terrain as both mirror and mystery. The language is gorgeous as well as compelling. He knows his way around the supernatural well enough to have his character feel as if he is in an H. P. Lovecraft story or a Stephen King novel. But he brings his own take to the proceedings, a mournful clarity based on the emotional travels of Paul Brunce.

'Paradise, Or Eat Your Face' is available both as a limited edition trade paperback and as an e-book. The trade paperback is very nicely printed with a cover image nearly as striking as the title. At just under 200 pages, it's pretty much the equivalent of seeing three great movies. If you enjoy reading e-books — and the ability to increase font size is certainly a reason to do so — then buying the e-book gives you the chance to read the material and keep your limited edition pristine.

In all three stories, Cheuse uses the novella form to its fullest advantage, offering works that are rich in texture, life and detail, yet compact and powerfully structured. And though the stories vary greatly in character and setting, Cheuse's interests and his language give the work a unity. These are stories of family and character, the families we choose and those we are given, stories the emotions that move us and move through us, sometimes as mysterious as the weather. We are always at our own mercy in these stories and in our lives. The moves we make, the choices we make, can take us to Paradise, or back into our own broken lives — if these don't prove to be in the same.

Review Archive
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General Fiction
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Supernatural fiction, supernatural horror and non-supernatural horror.

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Science fiction, science fantasy, speculative fiction, alternate history.

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