It takes a special kind of writer to take “blue demon dogs” as seriously as one might take a few, low-hanging alto clouds far off in the horizon. (“Are those blue demon dogs to the west? Oh, well. As long as they don’t block my sun.”) That is to say, not seriously, but, in fact, nearing lighthearted joviality, except insofar as such inclusions point out where we’re at as an iLife-obsessed culture, seeking truth based on inexperience. And in the case of the blue demon dogs anyway, that “where’s” inside a video game, I think. It’s hard to keep pace with writing this funny. And the funny thing is, Charles Yu’s second collection of short stories and follow-up to his critically acclaimed first novel isn’t funny in a “slice of life, on three!” sort of way, but unpredictable, and in that vein adventurous. Which is what makes Yu’s effort’s at humor a bit droll and, what’s worse, disappointing. A character’s internal list of wants, for instance, includes not just “A cigarette,” but, gratuitously, one line down “To quit smoking.” The effect is a bit like watching a professional skydiver land his parachute on top of a skyscraper, only to draw our attention to the mess that traffic is. We can’t see something so trivial as a too quick-witted joke from where we are in relation to Yu’s constricted prose and curiously burgeoning imagination, nor do we care to. I had a similar reaction to Yu’s contrivance to develop characters in the face of his already and excusably blatant lack of character development. Like three weeks of laborious construction over a perfectly unnecessary and unmissed stop sign. Or, you know, something less important.
The stories in each section of Sorry, Please, Thank You are so intentionally abbreviated, it seems as a condition of Yu’s insatiable appetite for the world as it is and the world as it appears, it’s hard to know where as readers and as psychologically doomed members of a culture we should stand, which side to take, in terms of to or not to carry on living lives lived for us (as is literally the case in the book’s opening story) when such ineptitude apparently produces writing of such comparable force. I’ll have to think about that while I… Oh, look, a cat video!