Elated by Details by Adam FreedmanElated by Details, the first collection of short fiction from Adam Freedman, is a collection of small gems aimed squarely at folks who remember Woody Allen's longer prose pieces from The New Yorker. That's not to say that Freedman attempts to emulate Allen's style (the one story that apes Allen, "Broker," is probably the weakest offering in the volume), but he has a quirky, and undeniably New Yorker-influenced, writing style, and an ability to balance silliness with some normally brutal emotional situations.
The two recurring themes of Freedman's short stories are wordplay, and people attempting to reinvent themselves. These both come together in the title story about Josh, a teen in Chicago with a penchant for coming up with "faux palindromes," phrases that sound vaguely palindromic but aren't (including the title itself and "Liberal Arts Startle Librarians"). After Josh wises off during a college recruitment event, he meets Professor Clapham, a philosophy instructor at St. Oscar's College. He's invited to a dinner with the professor and some students on a trip to Chicago, leading to Josh's introduction to Demeter Anacopulous. He quickly falls in lust with her. His attempts to visit her and lose his virginity, without arousing the suspicions of his Jewish father (who wonders why his son would ever be interested in a Catholic college) comprise the rest of the story.
Freedman nicely blends humor into his stories. When Josh first meets Demeter, he notes "her breasts, also perfect, because they existed," nicely capturing every teen boy's thoughts. Later, when he creates a fake brochure for St. Oscar's in an attempt to convince his dad that it's not extremely religious, he mistakenly writes about the college's "Jewish Pograms" and fails to catch the typo before his dad does. Beneath the humor, however, is a look at a boy attempting to create an identity for himself, and the divide between who he pretends to be and who he is.
This theme runs throughout the rest of the stories in the collection. Most deal with men and women (most often Jewish and/or from Chicago) who, after a disastrous relationship, move to invent a new life for themselves. In "Abroad at Christmas," we meet a divorcée who leaves Chicago (and memories of her ex) behind and heads to the fictional South American republic of Plata to edit a magazine and have affairs. A minor character in that story pops up as the lead in "Plodgett Revisited" as a man who spends years pining after a woman he knows is out of his league, even changing careers in an attempt to impress her.
The character studies are nicely mixed together with humor, but there are a few tales in which the humor is painted with broader strokes. These tales, for the most part, are the weak links. "The Secret Passion of the Artist" is one of those silly tales that has artists as the respected jobs and 9 to 5 professions like law as the romantic, bohemian choices. It's been done before, and better. Likewise, "Justice After a Fashion," a quick little dialogue about fashion-obsessed lawyers, is little more than fluff.
The one exception is the final (and longest) story, "Follow the Bursting Bubble." Freedman does a nice job balancing a humorous look at the silliness of the dot-com heyday (humor that does age poorly, but is still dead-on) with the tale of a man trying to raise his son after his wife has an affair and leaves him. Although the humor is silly (the usual stuff with companies deliberating avoiding making a profit, not actually having a product, etc), Freedman melds it nicely with the more serious story of Hal Lerner and his attempt to understand the weird business world in which he finds himself.
Fluff pieces aside, Elated by Details is a superb debut collection. Striking a balance between light-heartedness and "serious" storytelling, Freedman establishes himself firmly a contemporary storyteller with an ability to bring characters to life. Few contemporary short story writers have the skills (or ambitions) of Freedman, and one can only hope that a second collection will be forthcoming.
Elated by Details by Adam Freedman