Blurbs on the back of books with platitudes about a writer's prowess don't really help you understand why you should read a book (or story collection in this case). A story can be "beautiful", "ambitious", "sweeping prose", or any number of other similar phrases, but they are like a peppermint candy: essentially all the same. What can you say that gets to the heart of how an author uses language and how that writer tells a story?
For Ramona Ausubel, in her story collection A Guide to Being Born each story is a recipe of elements, the ingredients include: European fairytales, images from Surrealist painters, seemingly random collection of objects, and the quirks of an independent movie, undermining your expectations at every turn. Not a cheaply earned tear or kitschy turn of events, but more often odd, non sequitur of stuff moves you. Like a Robert Wilson experimental opera staging, where elements, characters and objects are all put together and you can't figure out why you are laughing or crying because the elements alone don't add up to that reaction. The pieces come together and just hit you. How in the life of a lonely teen can the love lives of other teens have anything to do with a lost tooth? This is how:
"The truth of those love lives--a glance in the dingy hallway from a crushable boy, a dark tangled session on an out-of-town parent's couch--was like a tiny, yellowed lost tooth, hidden under a pillow, which the high-schoolers believed, prayed, would be soon replaced by gorgeous, naked adoring treasure." (Sounds like straw that gets woven into gold?). Or the pregnant couple, where suddenly the husband finds he has drawers in his chest at the same time his wife is growing a child in her womb. See Salvador Dali for that one, although the mood is less despair, and more pure curiosity.
Why read this book? Because it is scintillating, confusing, and lovely all at once.
-Rene Meyer-Grimberg, Bookseller