This is the author's first story collection, and I have been looking forward to it, as I've read many of his stories in various literary journals over the last few years. This collection of 11 stories was worth waiting for; all of the stories are good, but a few have that ineffable spark of originality found in a great writer. Highlights for me include OZY, a wonderful story which has just won this year's Journey Prize, a richly deserved reward for this tale of a young boy's summer obsession with a video game. It is absolutely amazing how Boyko can take the quest for the highest score in a game called Ballistic Obliteration and turn it into a meditation on childhood, on self realization, on excellence. It's a stunning story. Here's an excerpt:
Every message is a message to the future. The feverish, grandiloquent billet doux stashed with trembling hand in the coat pocket of the girl you're in love with; the casual note to your wife jotted in haste and posted to the fridge before you leave in the morning; the drunken, desultory jeremiad left on your ex's answering machine -- they will be read or listened to, if they are read or listened to at all, by people of the future. Even the thought scribbled carelessly in the margin of whatever novel you're reading is a variety of time travel. Every mark we make, every trace we leave is a broadcast sent out into forever. We think of our footsteps as receding behind us, but really they are beacons sent out before us.
A few of the stories I've seen celebrated in other reviews, such as Assistance (about a man who clones himself in order to escape his miserable life) or The Problem of Pleasure (a young jealous computer geek surreptiously videos his girlfriend in the bedroom), were just okay for me. I mean, they were well constructed, interesting and unique, but didn't speak to me the same way the others did; perhaps because they felt a little cerebral, like a successful exercise rather than an emotionally driven story. Many reviewers have stated that he takes on any voice he pleases in these eleven stories; while I agree that the stories differ in narration and setting (wartime London, a vague futuristic world, small Canadian town, ocean liner), I don't think that they are all equally successful. It is obvious that he CAN do nearly anything, but I'm not convinced each story is being told in his true voice. Still, he is very talented and I will certainly be watching out for more of his work. One difficulty I had was with the title. It confused me a little, as there wasn't a story by that name in the collection, and I couldn't really see the direct tie-in between all the stories. However, here are a few explanations: