“Sorry, Please, Thank You Stories” came across my desk with the highest of recommendations. After all, Charles Yu’s previous novel “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” earned him very positive comparisons to Douglas Adams, and if anybody knows anything about me, it’s that I love Douglas Adams.
While I don’t know if “Sorry” – from Pantheon Books – lives up to those lofty expectations, it is further proof that Yu is one of America’s fastest rising and amusing authors.
At its heart, this is a collection of short stories that veer rather quickly between thought provoking to amusing and back again. Like many short story collections, the lack of a firm narrative is somewhat offset by the overall cohesive theme of the stories (coming to grips with your sense of self). Charles Yu is a brilliant writer who crafts compelling stories in the span, sometimes, of just a few pages.
That said, the stories do feel a bit muddled even if they are dealing with the same general themes. Yu will swing from a “center for outsourced feelings” to a “zombie in a department store” to an internal conversation from the perspective of his fantasies at the flip of a switch, and often the stories have no grounding to come into them.
A few of them (the feeling center in particular as well as a story about what the mental process of a hero in a video game must be) are broad enough ideas to warrant whole novels and are too casually tossed aside.
Others, such as a conversation between alternate versions of Yu and one where a couple struggles with what to do about a trans-dimensional door that suddenly appears in their living room, don’t really feel like they do enough. They are missing the wit and depth the other pieces carry.
Short stories are an interesting medium, presumably easier for Yu to write because of the nature of his lawyering day job. It’s unfortunate, because Yu’s writing style often feels like the longform set-up to a great punchline or philosophical point. In that way, I’d much rather see a fully fleshed out novel from him.
That said, it’s definitely worth reading, especially for the 25-40 crowd who are experiencing this weird existential crisis in society today where our “self” is split up into multiple personalities online and off. Yu doesn’t provide any answers, but he dives deeper into his own rabbit holes, and in doing so, might provide some context for our own lives.