Review by Booklist Review
The men, mostly young, in memoirist and playwright Sayrafiezadeh's provoking second story collection lack fulfillment. "Workplace lassitude" is suffocating a 19-year-old wannabe actor stuck at his father's construction company in "Audition," while an art-gallery employee fights nine hours of daily tedium in "A, S, D, F," and a dairy-truck driver fully recovered from an accident schemes about remaining jobless in "Metaphor of the Falling Cat." A threatened parent-child bond shapes "Last Meal at Whole Foods," which portrays a son anticipating his mother's too-early death, and "A Beginner's Guide to Estrangement" features a 35-year-old American who bypasses travel bans to visit his father in Iran. Two tales consider dissatisfaction in a dystopian near future: in "Scenic Route," a fortyish couple facing relationship and financial collapse takes a road trip despite imminent dangers; in "Fairground," the protagonist recalls his first (and only) public execution, in a stadium with popcorn, which he witnessed with a short-lived stepfather. Sayrafiezadeh's assured writing works in contrast with his discontented, stumbling, watching, and waiting characters who are plagued by the titular estrangement and its undermining consequences.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Sayrafiezadeh's rich collection (after Brief Encounters with the Enemy) features poignant stories of characters reflecting on their parents and navigating mismatched jobs. "Audition" features an unnamed wannabe actor who "never breaks character" while working construction for his father. The actor's confident narration masks his insecurity as he experiences "the meaning of hard work up close and personal." Later, he takes to smoking crack with a coworker. The last entry, "A Beginner's Guide to Estrangement," is reminiscent of Cheever as it depicts a son trying to find common ground when he reunites with his father after 15 years. In between are more gems. "Last Meal at Whole Foods" recounts a son, whose mother is dying, wistfully observing, "Her beauty is a vexing and unresolved public issue for me." In "A, S, D, F," a gallery receptionist who sees "everything through the prism of the abstract expressionist's paintbrush," tries to stave off boredom. But the futuristic "Fairground," about a man taking his preteen stepson to see an execution, feels out of place among the realist entries. Nevertheless, Sayrafiezadeh vividly captures his characters' misplaced optimism, which is what makes these stories so moving. (Aug.)
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Review by Library Journal Review
A Whiting Award winner in nonfiction following publication of his memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free, and short-listed for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for his short story collection Brief Encounters with the Enemy, Sayrafiezadeh returns with a second story collection whose characters face personal crisis in America's fraught socioeconomic landscape.
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
Seven thematically linked stories that explore the lonely schisms in American life. Estrangement, the act of being separate from a person or group with whom you were once close, is the definitive condition of Sayrafiezadeh's America and the binding agent of his lyrical, funny, and disquieting collection. In "Scenic Route," a couple so incompatible that they're dumped by their couples counselor try to heal their relationship by driving together across the United States…except the states are not united; visas are necessary; the state lines are guarded by border patrol agents; and as the couple progress westward, they encounter increasing antagonism, some of it generated by their incompatibility, the rest by the xenophobic land in which they once, as fellow Americans, belonged. In "Fairground"--another dystopian romp--our narrator is taken to a public hanging at age 6 or 7 or 8 by Mr. Montgomery, his stepfather at the time. Why go to a hanging? Because going to executions "was what fathers did with sons." The hanging is in the high school football arena, and Mr. Montgomery buys the narrator a "jumbo-sized" popcorn and excitedly explains "how in his day they didn't have hangings, but shot the condemned instead. In his father's day, they were beheaded with silver sabers, and so on down the line: guns, swords, poison, fire." Meanwhile, the narrator muses about Mr. Montgomery's impermanence in his life, which is obvious to him if not to Mr. Montgomery. Sayrafiezadeh's collection is mostly masterful and always fun, but its final story, "A Beginner's Guide to Estrangement," may be its most affecting. Here our narrator is Danush Jamshid, aka Danny McDade, who is nearly 35 years old and has seen his biological father only twice in the last 30 years. Now, despite the State Department's level 4 travel advisory, he has flown into Tehran to visit his aging father. But given the fraught political history between the U.S. and Iran, and given the fact that Danny's father abandoned Danny and his mother…well, both parties know this reunion, which is supposed to last just five days, constitutes their last chance to build what could have been a lifelong relationship. An elegy for a more united past? A warning against a less united future? A lyrical sequence of stories about infinitely various forms of personal and familial and political estrangement that we fragile humans allow to define our lives? All of the above? Check. Lyrical, funny, smart, and heartbreaking. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.