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Ben Loory
Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Penguin Group USA
US First Edition Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-0-143-11950-0
Publication Date: 07-26-2011
219 pages; $15
Date Reviewed: 07-04-2011

Index:  Fantasy  Horror  General Fiction

Wonder comes in many literary forms. A book of photographs may induce wonder at the world as it is, or a science fiction novel may invoke wonder at worlds that cannot possibly exist. Readers may find wonder in a fourteen-line sonnet or a four hundred page epic poem. A well-written work of non-fiction can present the wonder of those who surf one hundred foot waves. A novel about the whaling industry can inspire wonder at the limitless pursuits of a single man. A thick slab of space opera can draw readers outward into the contemplation of an endless universe. A non-fiction work about the unconscious mind can present the infinity inside each of us.

Ben Loory's 'Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day' embrace the world with all the weirdness it deserves. In short, succinct tales, Loory finds wonder pretty much everywhere he looks. Loory's work is clean and crisp, with an accent on finding elements of the fantastic in the implements of everyday quotidian life. His work reminds us that all literature is unreal. Loory's work just happens to be more unreal than others'.

There are 40 stories in some two hundred pages here, and the chances are you could read this in a day. But you'd be well advised to pace yourself, to dip in and out of Loory's fantastic literary menagerie. You may meet a magic pig, an empty book, or a land-dwelling octopus. Whatever it is you meet, you can be sure it will be placed in a context that will deliver you, the reader, into a state of high reverie. From one story to the next, from one fable to the next, small morals and big ideas jostle on a level playing field created by the author.

Key to Loory's success is his utterly, persuasively authoritative prose. It seems both obvious and very elusive, this style. Loory strips his stories down to the fewest possible words and then tells us in the simplest terms, where we are and exactly what is happening. More often than not, what is happening is patently absurd (a city-dwelling octopus, a conversation with a moose), and occasionally partakes of science fiction genre tropes. But the words are carved away to the bare minimum. The result is that by virtue of Loory's repressed prose style, he manages to make anything seem real, and is able to find wonder at every stage of the game, to the point nearly midway through the book where we read this sentence: "You should wonder harder, the man's wife says. It would make you a happier person."

Loory's prose is the stuff of which his stories, his dreams are made. Here again, he uses understatement and restraint to make the most outrageous fantasies unfold in a world that seems to be ours. Loory's stories have the effect of reminding us that the world is never ours, that we can become unstuck in life as easily as we dream. Loory often uses the classic science fiction technique of one wonder per story, though few could be considered science fiction.

Indeed, 'Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day' is an excellent example of the breadth and power of the fantasy genre, though to be honest, it is more sui generis than anything else. These are stories that apparently only Loory can write, and more importantly, stories that can be read only by individual readers. That is, the stories, for all their dry invention, seem to be aimed at each reader's individual heart. These are personal stories, meant for our ears only, for our minds only. They almost seem mathematically inevitable, in the way that intelligent life in the universe is said to be. But math, the universe, science and fantasy itself cannot accomplish what Loory does here. Language, well measured and keenly focused, is the only tool with which one may accomplish the task to hand.

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