Ben Loory - Fairy tales for adults: televisions talk, animals live in small apartments, a tree decides to walk and explore the world

Ben Loory, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, Penguin, 2011.

"Loory's collection of wry and witty, dark and perilous contemporary fables is populated by people--and monsters and trees and jocular octopi--who are motivated by the same fears and desires that isolate and unite us all. In this singular universe, televisions talk (and sometimes sing), animals live in small apartments where their nephews visit from the sea, and men and women and boys and girls fall down wells and fly through space and find love on Ferris wheels. In a voice full of fable, myth, and dream, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day draws us into a world of delightfully wicked recognitions, and introduces us to a writer of uncommon talent and imagination."

"The 40 cheerfully ominous stories in this collection feel like collaborations between Tex Avery and Franz Kafka. Each starts with a surreal premise--a man notices a strange hat staring at him, a duck falls in love with a rock, etc. - and sidles along from there. By itself, each sketch is tantalizingly incomplete, but that uneasy wonder is part of Loory's purpose. When these pieces work, as they often do, they invite readers to develop the idea themselves, to use their own imaginations to flesh out characterizations and consequences. Reading several stories in a row might mitigate some of the individual impact, but together they provide a series of glimpses into a world in which all manner of disturbing discoveries and transformations are possible." - Publishers Weekly

"Ben Loory's debut is a mesmerizing landscape of nightmares, daydreams, fables and parables—sometimes all four at once—that crackles with prose so spare and clean you'll swear you can see it gleam, with themes so intensely personal you'll want to weigh them in your palm and bear them away. Highly recommended."- Keith Dixon

"Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day is that rare find—a book that excites the reader. These tales are hilarious and vertiginous in the calmly absurd manner of Lydia Davis, Jack Handey and Etgar Keret. With his first book, Ben Loory proves he's already a master of the sleight of hand." - Stewart O'Nan

"If Mother Goose and Philip K. Dick had a love child, and Richard Brautigan raised him in Watermelon Sugar, he might write stories like Ben Loory." - Jonathan Evison

"Ben Loory's collection, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, is a unique accomplishment. Short, terse, and disquieting, his tales will compel readers to reflect upon our troubling times and grasp how our world has been turned upside down. In this respect they are post-modern fairy tales which do not promise false happiness but enlighten us about the distorted manner in which our world has been transformed. Loory has an unusual gift for seeing the bizarre and absurd occurrences in our society which appears to be on a relentless race to an ill-defined goal of progress. With his critical eye he lights upon the humor of human foibles and makes us aware of the snares that we set for ourselves." - Jack Zipes

"If I ever have a kid, and want to open him up to the world of the possibly Impossible, I might do well to read to him from Ben Loory's Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. His update on the lineage of magic and exploration of the terrored lining of the everyday is by turns enthralling, hopeful, surprising, funny, and ultimately a much needed reminder of the power of imaginative mythmaking in our fiction." - Blake Butler

"Some write like a dream, but each of these impressive stories reads like one (even those written 'for day'). Disarmingly simple and startlingly profound, Ben Loory's tales take readers through a wholly original universe of whimsy and pathos, moral darkness and brilliantly illuminated truths. Like the best dreams, they resonate, linger and haunt long after the Ambien wears off." - James P. Othmer

"Ben Loory is a master cosmologist waiting to be discovered, with a parabolic telescope that will allow you to see right to the living heart, not of the matter, but of matter itself, of what matters." - Andrew Ramer

"Late one night I made the mistake of walking through a narrow, dark alley to get to my car. A man stepped in front of me and began asking me questions that in any other situation would seem benign but in this case seemed menacing. Before letting me pass he said, 'After today, always remember how lucky you are.' The feelings that overcame me as I practically ran to my car—fear, confusion, relief, panic, joy—are some of the same feelings I encountered while reading, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. Unsettling and mesmerizing, these tiny tales will leave you wondering, like I did as I locked myself inside the safety of my car, 'What the hell just happened back there?'" - xTx

"Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day is a book that comes alive when you read it. It will stand on its own, pet your hair while you sleep, and hold the umbrella over your head in the rain." - Aaron Dietz

"Ben Loory is a writer who makes me feel less alone in the world. He also makes me feel like the world is more — and not less — absurd than I had originally suspected, which always comes as a strange relief. All of this is another way of saying that Loory is an original, and a good one, and someone well worth reading. Funny, weird, insightful, and wry. A giver of wincing laughter. I recommend him highly and could easily see several cults forming around his work. Good cults, too. Not the staid, mediocre variety." - Brad Listi

"Writing is the art of speaking well, and this first collection by Ben Loory demonstrates exceptional precision and control in the demanding form of the short-short story. More than three dozen examples are presented here in just 200 pages, all told by a clean, unpretentious voice that is refreshingly straightforward, charming and thought-provoking. The result is quite unlike anything else I have read, a singular work that seems content to explore a universe all its own, in the manner of, say, 'Kubla Khan' or The Circus of Dr. Lao. (Try to imagine Kenneth Patchen's Poemscapes crossed with David Sedaris's animal fables, minus the jokey punchlines.) The cumulative effect is not cloying but strangely exhilarating, both for its deadpan considerations of life and death and the things that happen in between, and for some unexpected revelations about the essence of storytelling that arise from its stripped-down style. It will be exciting to see what this quietly fearless writer publishes next." - Dennis Etchison

"I stepped out of my comfort zone a little bit for Stories,and I’m rather glad I did. Stories is a compilation of (very) short stories, about 40 in all,that are mostly fables and parables with a few purely fantastical tales thrown in. One of the mistakes I made at first in reading it was reading the stories one after another,instead of one or two,here and there. They lose a bit of their potency when read all at once,but if you read them piecemeal,I think you get more out of them. Among the standouts is The Octopus,about an octopus that leaves his home in the ocean,and forgets what it is to be truly free;UFO:A Love Story,which is just plain sweet;The Shield,in which a man bored with daily life retreats into a fantasy land of knights and swords;and The Well,which is just plain creepy. These little stories are short,but they’ll make you think long after you finish them. The key word here is subtlety. You won’t find in your face violence or a “message”. The author leaves it to you to get out of them what you will,and I really enjoyed that. I found myself turning these little stories over in my head for quite some time after I finished. If you’re in a contemplative mood,and want something short,sweet,and sometimes creepy,you’ll enjoy Stories for Nighttime and Some For the Day." - My Bookish Ways

"I’ve said it before: Ben Loory’s stories aren’t like anybody else’s (JR, you probably wouldn’t even consider them stories). They totally have their own logic, their own sensibility. Sometimes they are perfect little fables, but often when I walk away from them, I have no idea what they were about. But they stick with me, like great episodes of “The Outer Limits,” or asparagus—I’m not sure why they have the effect they do, but it’s strong. And like cryptic things crazy people shout in your face, you end up trying to unravel their significance for a good while after the fact. And they’re downright addictive,too. It’s hard to put this book down.
Loory stories are not strung randomly together, though at first this may seem like the case. The collection has an arc, a palpable progression, with the exception of “The TV” which was tacked on at the end, obviously because of its appearance in the New Yorker. It doesn’t detract from the whole, however. I just think of it as a bonus track.
And lastly, I gotta’ say, it’s really refreshing to see a big six publisher (Penguin) giving a wildly unique story collection like this such a nice push. I can’t help but feel like this bodes well for other writers of wildly unique stories, who have in recent decades fallen through the corporate publishing cracks." - Jonathan Evison

"In Ben Loory’s wild, dreamy debut collection of short stories, he explores the deepest recesses of the imagination, where even the most outlandish tales can yield profound insights.
“Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day’’ contains 40 featherweight fables, with a diverse cast of characters that includes erudite octopi, menacing hats, and lovestruck ducks. To say that disbelief must be suspended to appreciate Loory’s work would be an understatement; utter credulity is required. His stories have the maundering, free-associative quality of dreams, and follow their own peculiar logic.
Loory’s sparse, unadorned prose may seem at odds with the fantastical subject matter - think Lydia Davis meets H.P. Lovecraft - but this restraint allows his big ideas to flourish without distraction. Though he clearly revels in conjuring up curveballs, “Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day’’ is not just an exercise in unfettered surrealism. These stories are full of wit, humor, and heart, at times koan-like in their deceptive simplicity and focus.
Loory has a knack for twisted love stories. The protagonist of “The Duck’’ becomes infatuated with a rock. His fellow ducks make light of this unusual situation, but ultimately lend their support because after all, Loory writes, “ducks are all brothers when it comes right down to it.’’ In the epic “UFO: A Love Story,’’ two young lovers are torn apart when the boy’s determination to convince his town that the pair had seen a flying saucer runs amok. Simple pranks evolve into an elaborate, all-consuming hoax that sees the boy staging a full-scale invasion of his town in an effort to win his girl back. Another story finds a house and the nearby ocean pining for one another, desperate to be together and to overcome the one thing that stands between them - a cliff.
These sweet, off-kilter tales are balanced by others that trade in subtle horror, where blind curiosity has dreadful consequences. Loory’s oblique style is at its best here. More than anything, what he chooses not to reveal in his stories has the most impact, leaving readers to fill the gaps with terrors from their own imaginations.
“The Swimming Pool’’ concerns an indistinct monster lurking at the bottom of a public pool, undetected by all but one unfortunate man. In his panic, the man strives to defeat it but never fully understands his true predicament. The peril only becomes apparent after it’s too late, and Loory’s taut, final line - “He’s set the monster free.’’ - is brimming with dark possibilities. “The Rope in the Sea’’ unfolds like a nightmare, with a young couple discovering a pair of dead bodies on the beach and coming to realize that what they thought was the beginning of their story was really its end.
“Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day’’ is a collection of smart experiments, but there are definitely a few misfires. “The Woman and the Basement’’ and “The Man Who Went to China’’ titles lack the revelatory spirit of the other stories, with ragged narratives that fail to make the loopy journeys seem as if they were worth taking. Part of the fun of getting lost in Loory’s stories is seeing how he cleverly delivers “Aha!’’ moments when they’re least expected. They are like portals through which the reader can escape back to reality. When they fail to appear, it’s hard not to feel abandoned in a strange and unfathomable world.
More often than not, though, Loory proves himself to be a reliable guide, and “Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day’’ is a wonderful introduction to a writer capable of finding inspiration in the most unlikely places." - Michael Patrick Brady

"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." - Rick Kleffel

"Short story collections aren't my normal thing. It is the literary equivalent of a fried mozzarella cheese appetizer as opposed to a meal consisting of two proteins, veggies, and a Chocolate Bundt cake (I have no idea what a Bundt cake is, but saying the word Bundt fills me with girlish glee). Both can be delicious, but like with eating, I read for satisfaction. So I avoid short stories typically.
Ben Loory points out this egregious mistake in his stunning collection of short stories, the aptly titled Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. As the kids today say, My Bad! Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day contains 40 imaginative fables, nightmares, and literary oddities, each fighting hard for the title of wittiest and most unique. Loory operates at a high level throughout, cranking out gems like The Octopus, Death and the Fruits of the Tree, and UFO: A Love Story among others.
All the tales spring from a fantastical universe, where the level of wonder and magic Loory creates staggers, inspiring a near child-like awe. Reading Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day is like seeing ideas explored from an entirely new and fresh perspective; it is familiar, yet ethereal. An out-of-body experience in a couple thousand words. The stories demand reflection, letting go is an impossibility. The seeds Loory plants in the reader's mind develop into treasures that are indelible.
Dreaming, loss, fear, and love are common threads that run through the stories. These themes are all very human, emotions that are easily identifiable to the reader, but Loory explores them in a profound new way. Humans yearn, but so does an octopus in Loory's universe. But seeing it written this way provides a clarity to the human experience, one that is not evident to us since we inhabit our experience. Once again, it is an out-of-body experience, but this body is the whole of humanity.
Ben Loory is an extremely talented and exciting new voice, one that is stretching the limits of contemporary fables in interesting ways. There is magic in Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, not some concrete hocus-pocus, a lady disappearing out of a cabinet with a wave of a hand. This is more subtle; this is fantasy that springs out of a sense of wonder. And it's stunning to behold." - Paul Stotts

"The man is on a path. It is a funny thing. Life sort of gives him hints. Just before the phone rings, the man will look over. When he gets an urge to play the lottery, he wins.
The man has a job and he does it very well. Everything comes easily to him. He makes the right calls; he says the right things; he gets raises and benefits and perks.
Then one day the man is walking home from work, when suddenly he is hit by a car
. (p. 38)
Some stories enchant by a melodic flow of syllables that pound out a delicate, jazz-like rhythm that soon sinks into the reader’s psyche. Others depend upon staccato bursts, where the sentences are boiled down to their essentials, leaving nothing extraneous behind. Some tales build up to a crescendo, while others crash suddenly like the smashing of waves. Ben Loory’s debut collection, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day is not at first glance evocative. He seems to write in the simplest of fashions, with simple, direct sentences that has more in common with Hemingway than with Maupassant or other prolix short fiction writers. Yet there is much more to Loory’s fictions than what might be readily apparent from excerpts such as the one taken from “The Path.”
One thing Loory does in several of the forty stories is create an off-beat juxtaposition of the mundane and the unreal. The short sentences Loory favors serve to build up expectations in one paragraph that then careen into something else in the next. The next part of “The Path” illustrates this shift:
'The man wakes up in the hospital. He doesn’t understand.
Me? he says. Hit by a car?
He looks around. It doesn’t make sense.
And that’s when he sees – his path is gone.
The path he’s always been on is gone.
The man doesn’t know what to do anymore. How to – how to do anything. He doesn’t even know how to work the water fountain, can’t figure out when it’s time to go to the bathroom.
His wife and children come to visit; the man doesn’t know their names.'
(p. 38-39)
Now things have changed and the reader is left wondering about this man, who has lost his “path,” who has lost the memory of his wife and children. What will happen to him next? Loory, without resorting to elaborate wordplay or narrative sleights-of-hand, creates tension just from the simple combinations of character and situation (surreal as many of these are). He can have an octopus serving tea and from that WTF? moment move the story forward because the reader is paying attention to what is transpiring.
However, weirdness depends less on the grotesque or the out-of-place than it does on preconceptions of what is “normal,” on what is being transgressed. In most of these stories, there is a palpable sense of transgression taking place, such as what occurs at the very beginning of “The Hunter’s Head”:
'A hunter returns to his village one night with a severed human head in one hand. He jams the head onto a stake and sticks it into the ground by his hut.
Then he goes inside and falls asleep
.' (p. 41)
Is this story a horror? A pastiche of oddities? A dark, humorous tale? Something else in-between? There is a bit of most of these inside this tale, but its whole is more than a simple classification of its core elements into perceived genre tropes. Throughout this collection, Loory riffs on various narrative elements, but he rarely borrows wholecloth from any particular source. This mixing-and-mingling creates stories that feel at once familiar and strange because we recognize some of the elements they share with favorite fictions, but then the tales veer off into often-unexpected directions.
If there is a weakness to Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, it might be that despite the individual departures from reader expectations, on the whole the stories do resemble each other in narrative structure a bit too much in places. Although Loory’s deceptively straightforward prose works well, there is a sense of sameness that occurs after reading several of these stories in a single setting. This shortcoming, however, pales in comparison to the inventiveness that is displayed in Loory’s depictions of his sometimes-oddball characters and their rather unique situations. Readers who enjoy taking the roads less-traveled in their fiction will find much to enjoy in Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. Its use of the weird to say things about the mundane will appeal to many and Loory rarely lingers too long on a situation or a character’s plight. This debut collection is one of the better first offerings that I have read in a while and it ought to be attractive to a diverse set of readers. Highly recommended." - Vaguely Borgesian

"The woman returns from the store with an armload of books. She reads them quickly, one by one, over the course of the next few weeks. But when she opesn the last one, the woman frowns in surprise.
All the pages of the book are blank.
Every single one
.'
So begins Ben Loory’s strange and wondrous collection of short stories for both the nighttime and the day. This is the author’s debut work, and it sparkles with imagination, strangeness, terror, and wit. Each of the collection’s 40-odd stories averages at around 5 pages and are unrelated, save for the same sparing prose and atmospheric oddness. Imaginatively reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s older work, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day is simply…unique. For collections and anthologies, I usually like to say a few things about each story, however given the number of those in Stories, this is impractical. Instead, I will just ruminate on just a few of my favorites. These include:
“The Book” – in which a woman purchases books from a store, discovers one has no words in it and publicly rails against those who would purchase it;
“The Octopus” – in which a solitary, apartment dwelling cephalopod with a fondness for tea and spoons hears from his family in the sea;
“UFO: A Love Story” – in which childhood sweethearts discover that love triumphs all ambition and personal folly;
“The Hat” – in which a malevolent hat seems to follow a man;
“The Magic Pig” – in which a man asks for a sign from God to prove His existence, and is taunted by a dancing wooden pig;
“The Rope and the Sea” – in which a boy and his girlfriend pull a mysterious rope in the ocean to find a canvas covered pair of corpses;
“The Tree” – in which a tree decides to walk and explore the world;
“The Sea Monster” – in which a man dies at sea on a hunt to kill sea monsters, but inexplicably is alive and in town when the voyage returns;
“The Man and the Moose” – in which an unlikely friendship begins between a skydiver and a talking moose;
“The End of it All” – in which a man loses his wife to invading aliens, and embarks on a mission to find her;
As with any collection, certain stories shine more than others and this is certainly true of Mr. Loory’s debut. And yet, none of these stories are bad. As a whole, the collection is both eerie and heartening, strange and lovely. Short fiction – especially of this brevity – is hard to write and can be even more painful to read, but Mr. Loory manages to pare down his stories to those words and phrases at the core of any good tale – adventure, heart, pathos, catharsis. Some stories are bright and some are dark, some have a deeper resonance, some simply are. One thing is certain: Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day is utterly unique, magnificently memorable, and indubitably ineffable. It was a pleasure to travel through the talented Mr. Loory’s imagination, and I am excited to return one day (or night), very soon.
Notable Quotes/Parts: I will give two examples, in keeping with the collection title. The first, from “The Tunnel”
Two boys are walking home from school when one of them sees a drainpipe set back in the woods.
Look at that, the boy says. I never knew that was there. Let’s go in and see where it goes.
But the other boy takes one look at the pipe and quickly shakes his head.
Uh-uh, he says. Not me. No way.
Why not? says the first boy. Are you scared?
I just don’t want to, his friend says, and takes a single step back.
Come on, says the first boy. It’s just a pipe.
But the other boy won’t be swayed.
I’ll see you later, he says.
And then he turns around and runs.
The second, from “The End of it All”
A man and a woman fall in love and are married, and are happy in every single way.
Then one day a flying saucer lands in their backyard, and a door opens, and an alien comes out.
I’m going to have to take one of you away, it says.
What? say the man and woman. Why?
I don’t know, says the alien. That’s just how it is.
And in the end, the woman gets taken away
." - The Book Smugglers

"One day, even though the man knew it was coming, a book arrived and surprised the man. Filled with stories large and small (but mostly small) the expected book and its stories were filled with something totally unexpected.
The man turned the book in his hands and looked at the cover. Beautifully painted with a UFO and a sensual octopus tentacle caressing the title, the man felt the cover and enjoyed the texture of the heavy stock paper it was bound in.
Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory was what the title read.
Sitting in his chair the man turned the book over and over in his hands, enjoying the feel, and began reading. Stories of Love, Loss and Life itself poured forth from the printed pages. Small stories filled with city-dwelling octopus, men hiding in trees from Death, alien invasions in the name of Love, Bigfoot, televisions capable of writing operas of great worth starring Winston Churchill, the Hat, the Shadow and much more than the man ever expected.
Definitely what the man hoped for though.
Sitting in his chair, turning the book over and over in his hands once again, the man sank deeper into his chair and read it all again, enjoying the way the typeface danced from the page and into his imagination.
Wonderful. The unexpected expected book was wonderful.
Rising from his chair the man held the book tight and made his way to his desk and decided to write a review. This review was filled with many of the same words as the small book, but nowhere near in the same magical combinations and order. Eventually he was done and sat back to look at his review and read it.
Would it be good enough to make people see what a wonder this small book was? Would it be good enough to make people see how wonderful Ben Loory was?
It's what the man hopes. Prove him right and buy this book, won't you?
It's wonderful." - Michael Jones

"I don’t really read that many short stories, if only because I’m busy reading longer stories. But this book is less a collection of short stories and more a collection of stories whose purpose is to make you think about fantastic things and maybe expand your imagination or something.
There really isn’t any morals in these stories[1]. There’s hardly any plot, and a lot of stuff doesn’t make sense, and one story was only three sentences long. I think if I hadn’t read a lot of weird and confusing Modern fiction before I read this book I would have probably left it halfway through for another book with a cohesive narrative. But luckily I DID read all that Modern fiction and, as a bonus, I paid attention to the first story.
The first story is probably one of my favorites in the book[2], not only because it was a lot of fun to read but also because it sets up the rest of the book so nicely. In the first story, a woman finds a blank book. She doesn’t know what to do with it and so she gets rid of it. The next day she sees multiple people reading the blank book. This freaks her out and so she spends a good deal of time and effort to campaign against the blank book existing.
Then the rest of the story happens, which I don’t want to spoil, but the point is this: the story starts out relatively “real,” with the book and the woman who, on the face of it, is the only one who’s sane. Who reads a blank book, after all? But then the story gets progressively less and less “real,” until finally the bits of magic happen and everything’s slid into imagination/unreal/just-a-bit-surreal land.
Basically the whole book’s like that, and if you don’t like the first story I don’t think you’ll like the others, either. Since I DID like the first story I of course liked the others, although I think since I read them all at once they lost some of their power.
I love books that encourage people to think outside the realms of reality, as I think too often people are discouraged from doing that[3]. Also, the way the stories are written makes them feel like someone’s telling them to you over a campfire, or something. That’s nice, too.
I guess the only downside is that because all the stories sound the same, and because I read them all at once, I can’t really remember individual ones except for, like, three. Remembering three out of forty stories (without a hint) is kind of bad, isn’t it? Or is it not bad? I can’t decide. I don’t even really know if it’s bad that the stories all sound the same. (Is it?)
I do think it’s kind of bad I’ve forgotten more than half the book already, though. And my memory isn’t THAT bad.
Also I suppose I like the idea of some of the stories more than the actual stories themselves. Some of the stories were kind of boring, but they had some element in them that kept me interested (a talking moose, for instance). I think I spent a lot of my time interested but sort of up-and-down entertained– not that I’m expecting to be entertained all the time, like some sort of toddler. But, on the whole, I felt more “oh, that’s interesting” than “wow that was fantastic.” If that makes sense.
But anyway, I like Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. I like what it’s trying to do and I like the idea of it. I like that it’s weird and that people will probably get really annoyed by the stories until their imagination has become less atrophied. The stories themselves are mostly fun but also kind of boring, depending on how you look at it. It’s probably better if you read them a few at a time, so they have a chance to not get boring and same-y.
I’ll probably reread it sometime in the future, when I want something magical and a bit weird, and I’ll probably reread it in chunks instead of in one big gulp. If you appreciate weird magical stories that sometimes don’t make sense, I think you’d like Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, too. " - Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog

"In the first story of Ben Loory’s debut collection, a woman buys a book, takes it home, and is dismayed to learn that it is filled with empty pages. When she comes across a man reading the same book on the metro, her indignation grows. After she protests that he can’t possibly read a blank book, he defends himself: “You can pretend, he says. There’s no law against pretending.”
Along with pretending, reference and imagination are inherent to these stories. They are fairy tales, ghost stories, parables and fables, flash fiction forms most often associated with children and with reading aloud. The readers’ awareness with the formulas that define these kinds of stories amplifies what’s on the page– which is slender by design. The description is spare, most characters go unnamed, and there is little, if any, exposition of the situations and people that give rise to the action. The point is not to know the characters with intimacy, or to probe contextual evidence for what they do. These people are driven by basic human desires that run through Ovid and campfire tales alike: physical needs like shelter; that most rewarding and damning trait, curiosity.
And the images that emerge and recede throughout this book are curious indeed. In one story, two friends throw knives at one another for fun. An octopus builds a reclusive existence for himself in a major city. Sweethearts take off for the heavens in UFOs, religious fervor swells around a pig statue that moves unexpectedly one night, and monsters dwell at the bottom of local swimming pools. The quieter pieces focus on mysterious shifts that are more familiar. A man awakens after an accident with an altered understanding of himself and the world. A second man writes a poem, becomes famous, and decides not to write another. Many close as their protagonists set off, alone, into an isolating landscape.
The stories are separated into three sections. The first is devoted, for the most part, to variations on familiar adages: look before you leap, don’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t outrun your death, never give up. These stories are generally tidy, which can be to their detriment. Loory ventures into stranger territory in the second and third sections, and this is where he hits his stride. A man photographs parts of his body compulsively, pins them on the wall, and becomes alarmed when his own physique begins to change. A group of men go hunting for sea monsters and lose one of their party in an accident. When they return to land they find him alive and well, though he denies ever leaving with the group. As a result, they persecute him. Surreal narratives are broken into short sections of brief paragraphs, drawing attention to key developments while giving them breathing room. Written in the present tense, each section refers to the other but sits in a separate place on the page. As the action progresses, the form questions the causes and effects at work; these events may be linear, but who is to say why all of this is happening anyway? And while some stories are so open ended that they fail to convey a strong sense of mood (and answers about what is happening that are important to keeping the reader on board), others conclude with evocative uncertainty.
Television programming has its own sinister magic in this collection. The narratives themselves owe much to the Twilight Zone, which spun black and white parables about the contemporary world around flat characters, unexplained events, and constant reminders that the world is dangerous and unpredictable, that outside every well-lit living room was a street obscured by the night, and beyond the curve of the earth, an infinite amount of space.
Those television fantasies owe much of their strength to the right amount of familiarity and this book tries to follow suit. The juxtaposition of the banal and the freakish helps the stories to stand up and show themselves with vivid horror and humor alike. When a boy climbs up a tunnel toward an unknown end, he finally comes upon a room with a bed, where his friend is lying. Here, Loory takes the opportunity to turn his lens on the boy, who is
“…trailing leaves and rocks and oily tracks, and a crooked smile cracks his face.
“Please don’t scream, he says.
“But his friend in the bed doesn’t obey. His mouth opens wide and he screams.
“So the boy reaches out with one gnarled, twisted claw.
“Together, the two boys reach the end
.”
The moment slows down and congeals around deliciously nasty imagery. And despite its simplicity, the presumption of the scream and the gravity of the word “obey” indicate that something else has occurred; the young boy’s transformation is not just physical.
It isn’t all gloomy, either. When the boy-monster asks his friend not to scream and he promptly does, it’s funny. Of course the boy will scream. We’ve seen monster movies before, and Loory knows it. He scatters these stories with cliche phrases and spins them to comic effect. In a labyrinthian tour of a basement that would confuse M.C. Escher, a woman falls asleep leaning against a wall and wakes up in a strange bed only to ask herself, “Why does this always happen?” But the experiment can also come off as twee. One man who has lost his wife shouts at the sky, “It was worth it just to know you! It was worth it just to even know your name!” Like the many characters who puzzle aloud during fairy tales for pacing, these men and women wonder in classic, but ponderous, befuddlement. “Hmms” abound. Characters “think and think” and “laugh and laugh and laugh.” Other stories are very, very cute. (For many of us, it is difficult to read a collection of fables cover to cover. And I imagine it’s even more difficult to write them well. The stories resemble one another closely in structure and the cadence of the short sentences, elegant on the outset, begins to seem repetitious.)
There are electric moments in the collection though, and its tour-de-force is at the end, a short story titled, appropriately, “The TV.” This is a longer piece that isn’t mimicking bedtime stories, a wild mix of man-in-the-suit boredom, psychedelic and out-of-body experiences, and cacophonous television imagery. An unnamed man stays home from work and, shuffling through the channels, comes across a show about himself. As his obsession with the programming grows, his televised persona takes on a bold, separate identity. There are droll moments, but the story is good and frightening, a rich portrait of the simultaneous catharsis and anxiety of a man realizing the limits of his own control. I finished it, shivered, and read it again." - Annie Strother

"One of the things that I enjoy most about blogging here is the opportunity that it gives me to take a chance on something new every now and then, something that you wouldn’t normally find me picking up at all in fact. A large chunk of the time I’m reminded of why I never pick up certain books but I’ll often find myself pleasantly surprised by a sub-genre that I thought I’d got a handle on.
Much rarer though are the occasions where taking a chance on a random book will uncover an absolute gem of a book that will leave you astounded by just how much it has been able to reach into your head and mess with your very soul. A book that you just can’t stop thinking about. Last night I was lucky enough to come across one of these books, Ben Loory’s debut short story collection. It’s not perfect by any means but it’s a book that I couldn’t put down until I’d finished and it’s spent every moment since then elbowing my more mundane thoughts out of the way and taunting me with the questions that it’s left unanswered.
When reviewing a short story collection I’d normally say something about each of the stories within. Not this time though, we’re looking at forty short stories here and I don’t have the time to tackle that right now (even though each story is four or five pages long at the longest, the whole book is only two hundred and ten pages long). I also suspect that you folks wouldn’t have the time to read through all that so lets just say that I’m doing you a favour and leave it at that ;o)
The other reason I’m avoiding that approach here is because Loory has written all the stories and I would invariably end up saying the same things about each one. I don’t want to do that either but it is worth talking a little about how Loory approaches each story in the book as a whole, the end effect is something really special.
Loory has the happy knack of being to take something really weird (afternoon tea with an octopus for example or a romance between two aliens) and write about it in the most ordinary way. The end result are very accessible stories that introduce you to the weirdness without you even realising it; it’s so gradual so that you don’t even know what’s going on until right at the end, the exact moment where Loory will hit you with a powerful ending over and over again. I am in awe of any author who can consistently hit the nail on the head with endings that either shock or leave you deep in thought; Ben Loory is very much a member of this select group.
At the same time, Loory also has the talent of being able to take something completely ordinary and write about it in the strangest of ways (a love shared by an elderly couple over many years for example). These stories have a similar kind of effect, as when Loory approaches his stories from the opposite direction but the end result for the whole book is all the more compelling for it. The bottom line is that you just don’t know whether you’re going to get ‘ordinarily weird’ or ‘weirdly ordinary’ (or even sometimes downright terrifying – check out ‘The Tunnel’ and you’ll see what I mean) and you find yourself having to keep reading in order to find out.
I’ve already mentioned ‘The Tunnel’ but other highlights for me were ‘The Octopus’, ‘The Man Who Went to China’ and ‘The Snake in the Throat’. The first two get picked for their weirdness while ‘The Man Who Went to China’ was chosen for an open ending that adds to the overall impact of the tale. ‘The Snake in the Throat’ however was chosen for another theme that Loory has added to the book.
Ben Loory is fond of including little messages to his tales (fables?) that are there to give you something to think about, maybe even to make you wonder if there’s something that you personally could learn. Sometimes Loory can be a little heavy-handed with these messages at the expense of the story itself; possibly because this book is meant to be as much for children as it is adults. You can understand this but it doesn’t mean that you have to like it. There were occasions where it all felt a little forced to me but, on the whole, you can’t argue with a book where the overriding message runs along the lines of, ‘be happy but keep an eye on the shadows at the same time’ (and I’m thinking of ‘The Swimming Pool’ here, another favourite).
Loory doesn’t dress up his tales in fancy prose either. He is obviously a man who appreciates the importance of a good tale well told and strips his prose right down in order that the story itself can shine. And his stories do shine, every single one of them. Loory may fall into the trap of labouring his point, every now and then, but when you look at the book as a whole... I’ve gone on about it enough already. I’m going back for a re-read of a book that has found itself my surprise read of the year.
Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten." - Graeme Flory

"The mind of Ben Loory is a weird but wonderful one. In his first book, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, Loory parlays a love for the strange into fables about servile aliens, swimming pool monsters, and a skydiving talking moose, most of which take turns for the even more bizarre. Think of these stories as Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales adapted by Luis Buñuel for The Twilight Zone—the ultimate combination of the fantastical, the surreal, and the paranormal distilled into 40 peculiar and amusing tales.
It may take a few pages to adjust to Loory’s collection of mostly flash fiction. Many of the stories read like quick summaries, sometimes ending abruptly (the term sudden fiction seems appropriate here), telling rather than showing, and often eschewing character names, which can be confusing in tales where more than one person is described only as “the man.” And unlike traditional fairy tales, these stories are not always rooted in clear-cut morals or messages. Still, these are only minor trespasses for Loory, whose fiction is immediately and consistently compelling, thanks to his strong sense of tone and quirky, perfect details that make the strange familiar. Sometimes, there is nothing more commonplace than retrieving the mail for an apartment-dwelling octopus who collects spoons and drinks tea.
The stories strike a delicate balance between the peculiar and the inherently human, often with hilarious results. A screenwriter, Loory even seems to poke fun of his own trade in “UFO: A Love Story,” a tale about a young man who becomes so obsessed with convincing skeptics of his alien encounter that he stages fake UFO sightings to change their minds. In the process, he sacrifices the companionship of his first and only love, who moves to another city and goes on with her life until he realizes the error of his ways and stages a fake alien invasion on her wedding day to win her back. Loory seems to be intentionally crafting a storyline and straight out of a Katherine Heigl rom-com (but, you know, with aliens!), right down to the cliché redemption speech: “I was wrong. I spent my whole life trying to fit in. When I should have been with you, getting out.” Loory’s tendency to summarize omits the heart needed to fully pull off the spoof, but it’s still convincing evidence that even the most generic ideas can be refreshed with a little alien abduction.
The best stories in the collection are perhaps the tales in which Loory focuses less on being weird for the sake of being weird and more on the endearing or perhaps even personal, such as the fantastic “The TV and Winston Churchill,” in which a television set becomes disenchanted by its owners’ terrible viewing choices and begins broadcasting only educational shows, including opera and programs about Churchill. After being thrown out, the TV composes an opera about the former prime minister and invites people in town to watch his masterpiece, only to be met with requests for mindless entertainment featuring “stuff blow[ing] up” or “teenagers and fancy cars.” It’s a somewhat bittersweet but wholly amusing reflection of the lonely lives of those devoted to high art and intelligent storytelling when the reigning competition is the oeuvre of Michael Bay.
Loory isn’t always this straightforward in his storytelling, however. Often, he doesn’t work out the emotions that the characters feel, opting instead to pass the confusion and uneasiness on to his readers. In “The Martian,” for example, the titular alien moves in with a husband and wife after a brief encounter at an astronaut’s home and begins doing the household chores, as if a servant. Shut out from her usual duties of cooking and cleaning, the wife feels nervous and awkward around the Martian and drives it away only to think fondly of it in retrospect. No reason is given for the shifts in opinion, nor does the woman process any of these feelings, but this lack of explanation feels realistic rather than empty. In fact, the open-ended storytelling forces readers to find truth in her reactions and interpret the situation for themselves.
What the tales in Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day don’t do is hide behind the pigeonholes of magical realism, slipstream or any of those other buzzwords for literary science fiction. This is a collection for those who like their sci-fi a little creepy, maybe a little horrifying, and unabashedly bizarre. Loory’s not blending literary fiction with genre fiction here; instead, he’s writing genre fiction that’s too damn clever and fun to deny." - Yennie Cheung


The Girl in the Storm by Ben Loory

Ben Loory: The Assassin

Sea Monster by Ben Loory

The Pig by Ben Loory

The Knif3e Act by Ben Loory

The Wall by Ben Loory

The Octopus by Ben Loory

The Pilot by Ben Loory

The Book by Ben Loory

The TV by Ben Loory

The Shield: A Fable by Ben Loory

Wings By Ben Loory

The Rope and the Sea by Ben Loory


Ben's Web page

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