June 2005

Angela Stubbs

fiction

The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories by Steve Almond

Chinua Achebe said, “People create stories create people; or rather stories create people create stories.” Anyone who is familiar with Steve Almond’s work will be pleased to see that he’s woven both intensity and humor into both the people and the stories in this new collection. Oh, there’s sex too. Almond creates very real situations with intense emotions and precarious circumstances. He moves from sexual pleasure and sexual theories to abduction and jealousy seamlessly. His narrators are undoubtedly believable and remain unique throughout the 12 stories.

The title story, “The Evil B.B. Chow” which may just be one of the strongest in the bunch, tells the story of a woman who works for magazine a lot like Cosmopolitan called “Woman’s Work.” Maureen, despite all the tips and tricks of the trade she learns while at work, can’t find the right man. B.B Chow emerges as her blind date -- a meek and goofy doctor, who is lacking in finesse and dating know-how but has “trustworthy features.” We learn that B.B Chow can be just as sly and clever as any suave, good-looking man when it comes to sex. “The fact that B.B. Chow can’t really kiss or fuck or even fondle, the fact that he makes me feel like Xena, Warrior Princess, these things really turn me on.” Whether it’s medical procedures gone badly or the clumsy pursuit of foreplay, B.B. Chow wins over Maureen with all of his vulnerabilities only to dump and dupe her like the other men she's dated. Almond’s female narrative is impressive -- capturing the doubts and self-loathing women often find themselves guilty of.

A middle-aged undergrad writing instructor deals with the funny characters in his college classroom in “Appropriate Sex.” Almond balances the humor exactly right with its dialogue and day-to-day happenings in the classroom. The class is replete with unusual characters, each of whom exude some sort of sexual tension during the course of their class discussions. This particular story takes place during the President Clinton sex scandal and the professor is sure it’s contributing to the type of energy that is running rampant in his classroom. The funniest moment is over a discussion of a theme in one of his student’s assignments. Mandy, who has chosen to write about her love for horses, finds herself having to explain why other classmates may think she’s a fan of bestiality: “I think it has something to do with my dad,” Mandy said. “He was really well hung. That’s what my mom used to always say. Hung like a horse. You know that expression?” Almond knows where to apply subtle humor and when to let go. “Appropriate Sex” is one of those stories where he lets go. This story makes us laugh about sex while reminding each of us that we are all equally vulnerable when it comes to intimacy.

An interesting, yet ultimately unsatisfying addition to this collection is the historical fiction about Abraham Lincoln, called “Lincoln, Arisen.” In this story Almond addresses the life of two men, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Including historical fiction in this collection proves to be the one miss among the stories. Almond, who even thanks Abraham Lincoln in his acknowledgments, added surreal sections within the story and dreamy sequences, but it made the story more difficult to follow. It really interrupted the pace of the book. Apart from that, Almond did provide extremely real, flawed men, with insecurities and vulnerabilities the reader can relate to. In this story, Lincoln and Douglass are not historical stereotypes but rather mere men on a flatboat, floating toward the Gulf of Mexico. The unfocused manner in which this story is told seems to detract from what might have been a great story addition.

The other stories that remain in this collection offer up as many disturbing scenarios as it does funny. “Wired for Life” has a young woman who’s become sexually denied by her boyfriend seeking love and lust at her local computer repair store; “Skull” looks deep inside the sexual void of the main character, who incidentally has one eye and displays her vulnerabilities to her lover by lifting her eye-patch and allowing things to enter the ocular cavity; “The Soul Molecule”'s narrator is asked or rather initiated into a creepy club of abductees while eating french toast and Egg Beaters; while a sadder story, “Larsen’s Novel” examines the life of a family man who spends 10 or so years writing a terrible novel, only to be shunned by his best friend out of jealousy. The story has some laughable moments where Flem Owens (the best friend) reads excerpts from Larsen’s novel aloud to his wife. Both characters are dealing with their own insecurities; each wanting approval and validation in some way from one another.

All the elements in The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories show us how we all are equally flawed in different ways, vulnerable in similar ways and, when it comes down to it, human. Almond has a knack for good story-telling and whether you’re reading about disease, love, death or even Michael Jackson, you know somehow there is a thread that binds each of these stories together. Almond writes, “We never read a book for its deepest human lesson,” but somehow we end up wiser for having tried.

The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories by Steve Almond
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
ISBN: 1565124227
232 pages