"I glanced out the window as my train pulled into the station and saw the girl who killed my son." So begins Josh Rolnick's powerful debut collection of eight stories (winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award), which utilizes a richly focused narrative style accenting the unavoidable tragedies of life while revealing the grace and dignity with which people learn to deal with them. The stories - four set in New Jersey and four in New York - span the wide geographic tapestry of the area and demonstrate the interconnectedness of both the neighboring states and the residents who inhabit them.
In "Funnyboy", a grief-stricken Levi Stern struggles to come to terms with the banality of his son's accidental death at the hands of Missy Jones, high school cheerleader. In "Pulp and Paper", two neighbors, Gail Denny and Avery Mayberry, attempt to escape a toxic spill resulting from a train derailment when a moment of compassion alters both their futures forever. "Innkeeping" features a teenager's simmering resentment toward the burgeoning relationship between his widowed mother and a longterm hotel guest. "The Herald" introduces us to Dale, a devoted reporter on a small-town newspaper, desperately striving to break a big-time story to salvage his career and his ego. A teenager deals with the inconceivable results of his innocent act before an ice hockey game in "Big Lake". And in "The Carousel", a Coney Island carousel operator confronts the fading memories of a world that once overflowed with grandeur and promise.
Throughout, Rolnick's characters search for a firm footing while wrestling with life's hardships, finding hope and redemption in the simple yet uncommon willingness to act. Pulp and Paper captures lightning in a bottle, excavating the smallest steps people take to move beyond grief, heartbreak, and failure - conjuring the subtle, fragile moments when people are not yet whole, but no longer quite as broken.
©2011 Josh Rolnick (P)2012 Josh Rolnick
Definitely. There are beautiful stories here, which is what kept me engrossed the first time through. But there were also so many great descriptions and turns of phrase and witty lines of dialogue that I didn't get to fully appreciate on the first round because I was focusing on the plot. I'd listen again so that I could have another chance to absorb those things. And these are also the kinds of stories that even though you've already heard them and know how they're going to end, you want to hear them again so you can hear your favorite parts repeated.
Avery in Pulp and Paper. His shifts between depression, hope, and heroism as the story progresses make him compelling; Rolnick makes it clear that Avery is no high-minded savior, that he'd rather just leave crazy Mrs. Denny to the flames, and yet he doesn't. He shows both manipulation and tenderness as he tries to get her to leave the fire, and that tenderness ends up being his death sentence.
Tweedy from Inkeeping. Fass does a great job of voicing Tweedy in a way that reflects the narrator's opinion of him--sometimes he seems warm, sometimes pompous, just as the boy imagines him. And I like that slightly gravely quality to the voice.
A great collection of stories. It's tied together by a nuanced understanding of how bittersweet love (or in a broader sense desire) can be, and of course by the New York/New Jersey setting. But at the same time the stories cover a broad range of characters and situations, and as I listened I never knew what the next story would bring. The writing is never glib or jaded--the emotion here is honest and bare-faced, without ever crossing over into the maudlin, something that's hard to find in fiction these days.
Mr. Rolnick is a great storyteller. Some of the stories in Pulp and Paper explore difficult situations, deaths and an unplanned pregnancy for example, and unveil them in compelling plots with interesting, authentic characters. But the story I loved most was lighter—the fourth story, Mainlanders. I haven’t been pulled back to my adolescence like that in decades—feeling the excitement and nervousness at sighting a girl I hoped to meet, the ridiculous lengths I would go through to induce contact, and the horror when contact was made—the perfunctory hellos were over—and it was time to actually say something meaningful. This was a story that I knew well and loved hearing told through Mr. Rolnick’s voice. He nailed it. I really enjoyed each of the eight short stories in his collection.
I’m assuming that if you are reading this that you are not new to audio books so you know that the quality of the narration can vary. In this case, the voicing is very nice—the narration gives voice to Rolnick’s work such that it conveys the emotion, setting, ideas, and dialogue without adding the distraction of an external voice that takes you away from the story.
I have not purchased a collection of narrated short stories before but thought it might be nice to be able to listen to complete stories in single or double sessions. This proved to be a really nice feature—as I was able to select the story based on the amount of time I had available. When I was in the car for a moderate drive I was able to select a story that I could complete on the round trip—very nice indeed. I am inclined to purchase more short story collections based on this experience. And I will look forward to additional works from Mr. Rolnick to read and listen to in the future.
I would absolutely listen to P&P repeatedly because the characters are developed with such beautiful subtlety, each unfurling throughout its story. I imagine listening repeatedly would lend itself to even greater empathy as the characters we come to appreciate, encounter circumstances that challenge them to overcome the things we, as readers, most fear. "Funnyboy," especially, is challenging and fulfilling; asking each of us to consider justifying our commitment to self-righteousness versus its consequences - to others as well as ourselves.
Will Taft of "Innkeeping" is such a lovely character and his voice and observations are so well developed. Rolnick has given the character a keen sense of observation without over-expanding his maturity. He is both man, and boy, but the author refrains from extracting too much from him. Excellent, really.
Fass' narration brings the characters and the stories together in a Donald-Sutherland-esque way - the cadence and characterization effectively enhancing the storytelling, where another voice may have been distracting. He moves comfortably between character lines and narration and effectively conveys visual elements of the stories to the listener while fully delivering the complex richness of what is happening within.
"I glanced out the window as my train pulled into the station and saw the girl who killed my son." Now that's how you begin a short story, or in this case, a gripping collection of them.
Pulp and Paper is a masterpiece of short fiction in which author Josh Rolnick creates vivid worlds with complicated characters who are both relatable and extraordinary. Each story is emotional and nostalgic without being sappy or insincere.
I could read "Funny Boy" over and over again.
It was rich and warm but not distracting.
Pulitzer Prize winner "Pulp and Paper"
I highly recommend you pick up a copy and escape (if briefly) into this brilliant author's stunning imagination.
Married with 4 children. Love listening to the books. I have a variety of interests in titles.
I managed to get through the first 3 stories...finally gave up. Very shallow plots and boring to me. Maybe just not my kind of stories. There seemed to be no substance.
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