cover image The Tao of Humiliation

The Tao of Humiliation

Lee Upton. BOA (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-938160-32-5

Poet, essayist, and fiction writer Upton's (The Guide to the Flying Island) stories are playful, full of clever allusions that are deftly presented. Often these references seem to be the inspirations for the stories themselves, or for entertaining riffs within them. "Beyond The Yellow Wallpaper" springs from the early feminist story and ends with references to A Midsummer Night's Dream. Titles like "The Swan Princess," "La Belle Dame Sans Professeur," and "The Last Satyr" all overtly display their literary roots. Even the stories with more conventional plots have literature as a context or touchstone: in the wake of a cancer scare, Shana, the heroine of the moving story "Bashful," lists all the serious books she had once intended to read. Several pieces in the book are under 10 pages, and not so much plot-driven as high-concept. "Let Go" features a first-person narrator stressing over the fact that he has to fire someone for the very first time. Upton's story openings tend to be vivid; they're great hooks. The title story begins, "The guy with stringy hair was staring, which made Everett even more nervous, as if something was going on under the table with the guy." This is a smart and highly entertaining book. (May)