Book Review | Don’t Try This At Home by Angela Readman

dont-try-this-at-home-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: Don’t Try This at Home
AUTHOR: Angela Readman
PUBLISHER: And Other Stories
RELEASE DATE: May 5, 2015
GENRE: Short Fiction, Magical Realism
PAGE COUNT: 176


Every story in this collection is fresh and fantastical.  They share a sad streak, using magical realism to tap into the nerve centre of the human condition.  

Don’t Try This At Home ★★★★★

A woman believes chopping her boyfriend in half will save their relationship.  This funny but confronting story starts the collection with a bang.  It lingered in my mind for weeks after reading.

Conceptual ★★☆

A family of artists falls apart when unhappy reality disrupts their utopia.  The melodrama of the story got into the way with me emotionally connecting to it.

Surviving Sainthood ★★☆

When his disabled sister becomes a saint, neglected teen Ben drifts away from his family.  While I didn’t find the characters very convincing, I appreciate that Surviving Sainthood touches some sensitive topics that could lead to great book club conversations.

There’s a Woman Works Down the Chip Shop ★★★★☆

One magical summer, a working-class mother transforms into Elvis.  You can interpret this story any way you like, but I read it as a metaphor for the woman’s concealed sexual identity.  I invested in the characters and loved the originality of this idea.

Birds Without Wings ★★★☆

A failed vacation drives a wedge between a well-meaning mother and her overweight daughter.  The pain and conflict in Birds Without Wings is well-developed even in so few pages.  Although this story doesn’t include a magical element, it fits the themes of the collection perfectly, incorporating parent/child conflicts and a sense of the macabre.

Shine On ★★☆

A young woman with superhuman hearing is fighting a losing custody battle over her baby.  The protagonist’s flaws make her pitiful but also realistic.  This story left me with a strong sense of her despair.

When We Were Witches ★★★☆

The local witch adopts a hunchbacked girl to teach her the ways of the wild.  Unlike the previous magical realism stories, When We Were Witches is fantasy.  I didn’t mind jumping genres, and enjoyed getting lost in this imaginative world.

Everywhere You Don’t Want to Be ★★★☆

A successful woman is forced to rethink her life when she meets her alternate self.  This idea reminds me of a comedy film cliché, but I still enjoyed the character development.

Dog Years ★☆

A girl covered with fur becomes a freak show attraction.  This extremely short story felt jarring because it lacked the strong style of the rest of the collection.

The Keeper of the Jackalopes ★★★★☆

A bankrupt man and his daughter sell taxidermied critters to save their trailer park from urban development.  Throughout The Keeper of the Jackalopes, I enjoyed piecing together the characters’ world.  I felt it had the most heart, and the deepest character development of any story in the collection.

Catwoman Had Something ★★★☆

A young girl inherits her aunt’s secret to seduction.  How would your personality change if suddenly the opposite sex found you irresistible?  While sad, this idea is definitely fresh and compelling.

Boys Like Dolls ★★☆

A little boy’s GI Joe doll comes to life and gives him bad advice.  Following such inventive ideas, I felt like this was a comparatively weak ending point for the collection.

Overall, Don’t Try This at Home is a thought-provoking collection, with a compelling pace and strong thematic backbone.  Angela Readman combines whacky magical realism with her sense of the macabre to construct a unique look on life. 

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