Two reviews of Karin Lin-Greenberg’s Faulty Predictions by GD staff members Sarah Diaz & Chrissy Montelli (see below).
Written by Sarah Diaz, GD Poetry Reader for 3.2 & Poetry Editor for 3.1
A Review of Faulty Predictions: Stories by Karin Lin-Greenberg
As a self-proclaimed poet, I often find myself reluctant to read fiction. When I picked up Faulty Predictions, the genre ‘short fiction’ eased my concerns slightly, though I remained somewhat skeptical. The opening story of the collection, “Editorial Decisions” employs the first-person plural point-of-view and just like that, falling into the 2013 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction winner was easier done than said. The collection was published by the University of Georgia Press. Karin Lin-Greenberg received her MFA from University of Pittsburg, an MA from Temple University and an AB from Byrn Mawr College. Her work has appeared in literary journals such as Epoch, Kenyon Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Five Chapter among others. She is currently an assistant professor in the English Department at Siena College in upstate New York.
This collection cannot be described with just one adjective as it succeeds in tackling diverse stories with distinct voices and styles. Topics such as family dynamics, societal/cultural expectations and assumptions and misconceptions are considered from various perspectives throughout the book. The title piece, “Faulty Predictions” is about a character convinced she can make predictions of the future, which more often than not, turn out, you guessed it, faulty. In other stories, the title plays out in a less literal way as skeptical protagonists also learn unexpected lessons.
Karin Lin-Greenberg’s ability to vary the perspective of each story is one of the most intriguing elements of this collection. The collection’s shortest story, “Bread” is told from the perspective of Lizzie, whose boyfriend has been labeled the notorious ‘bread bandit’. In three pages, Lin-Greenberg explains the motives of this teenager and the response of the narrator when her mother makes them break-up. Lin-Greenberg allows her characters to tell their own stories but leaves space for characters to tell others’ stories as well. In “Designated Driver” the narrator tells her story in second-person. This point-of-view allows the narrator to distance herself from the story, while simultaneously engaging the reader on a personal level. “Bread” & “Designated Driver” are the shortest pieces in the collection, punctuating the stories with more intricately developed plot lines.
The culminating story, “Half and Half Club,” is about the development of a new high school multi-cultural club. The main event is the club’s trip to a nursing home to share homemade dishes that represent each member’s background. While this is the core of the plot line, Lin-Greenberg is able to characterize the characters throughout the piece by way of interactions, actions and dialogue. I was never concerned when the story strayed from action because Lin-Greenberg took these moments as opportunities to unpack the individual characters, like Priya Fitzgerald who was, “tired of lying to her parents for Priti, tired of how unchallenging her classes were at school, tired of the girls in her grade who only wanted to get married and have babies, as if there was nothing better to do in life.” In these sections, the characters are complicated in order to give their actions a reason and a purpose within and outside the plot.
Most of the pieces in Faulty Predictions are about characters negotiating family relationships. For example, “The Local Scrooge” follows English Professor Pete Peterson as an embarrassing video of him leaks onto the internet after Thanksgiving break. He is a stoic professor and “was not a nice man—this was the one thing in the world he knew to be wholly true.” A week prior to the beginning of this story, Pete visited his first grandchild, his daughter’s child in Chicago. Pete’s pessimism is apparent as he frowns upon the way his daughter lives her life in the city; it’s clear that Pete has no desire to spend time, much less live, in this urban environment. By the end, Pete has accepted the other side of himself, the side that the whole campus has now seen. The piece feels like non-fiction: as if Pete’s daughter and grandchild are out in the world, enjoying this story as a memory. Lin-Greenberg’s careful craft of a grumpy yet genuine character makes me want to learn about his family and how he addresses the situations in which he finds himself. This vividness is something I appreciate in poetry and was therefore exceptionally pleased to find it in a piece of fiction.
Faulty Predictions navigates all aspects of its characters’ lives. “Editorial Decisions” is about the self-important attitude of the staff of a high school literary journal. They become extensively conscious of the two “sullen and miserable” boys who are seen in the library together reading their comic books not far from the literary journal meetings, “Depression was OK, encouraged even, in poetry; in real life, people who were depressed bored us.” When a school tragedy occurs, they reflect collectively on the fact that actions always have consequences. It is an intriguing piece with which to open the collection because the reader is simultaneously on the outside and on the inside of the “we” narrator. As an editor myself, I recognize that my decisions are statements, that they are a certain kind of power that must be negotiated. Lin-Greenberg’s ability to make me feel connected and distance from this collective speaker reminded me of what a good poem might do; I was impressed and inspired by her writing.
Faulty Predictions moves like a glass of water, hydrating with little resistance. The stories that are refreshing in their voice and perspective as they echo old lessons we might have forgotten over the years. I want to keep reading about the new business owner, Miller Duskman, who’s being treated like an intruder in a tight-knit town, and about the brother who goes to buy a bride’s dress with his sister in “Good Brother.” These characters are lovable in their sincerity. Lin-Greenberg allows her characters to tell the story they need to. She also succeeded in roping this poet in.
Written by Chrissy Montelli, GD Poetry Editor for 3.2, Contributor to 3.1 & Poetry Reader for 2.1
A Review of Karin Lin-Greenberg’s Faulty Predictions
In her first collection of short stories, Karin Lin-Greenberg surprises readers by inverting expectations, both in terms of character development and reading experience. In Faulty Predictions, characters confront their flaws and see each other from new angles, all the while navigating unprecedented and often humorous plotlines. It’s these pleasant surprises that make Faulty Predictions a strong debut.
The originality of these stories is immediately compelling. The relationships and conflicts presented feel unique to Lin-Greenberg—like she’s the only one who could ever devise these scenarios. Moreover, these odd yet believable plots possess an emotional poignancy that is fresh and powerful, even in quieter moments. In the titular story, two elderly roommates—one allegedly psychic—attempt to stop a murder, but instead end up confronting racism and unveiling family conflicts that result from it. “Bread” is about a young man who visits supermarkets to squeeze old bread, believing that he is helping the common people by preventing the sale of stale bread. After he is caught, his ex-girlfriend decides to continue the mission in a less-extreme way, a type of compassion rarely explored in fiction. “Prized Possessions” involves an ongoing rivalry between two Chinese immigrant women and the theft of a Christ figurine, which eventually leads the women to understand each other better. Each story finishes in a physical and emotional setting that seemed unpredictable at the story’s beginning, and these surprises propel the reader forward as they turn each page.
Furthermore, Lin-Greenberg’s writing runs the gamut in terms of setting and character diversity. From San Diego to Boston, from North Carolina to Pittsburgh to Kansas, Faulty Predictions moves across the map with fluidity; each story is grounded in vivid locations, making them accessible to readers who have never been to these places before. Small-town Ohio comes alive in “Miller Duskman’s Mistakes,” and the narrative teeters the line between singular and plural first person perspectives in such a way that the town itself could be considered a character:
To tell you the truth, that all-glass building was like something magical, and maybe if someone we liked had constructed it, we would have been impressed. But we couldn’t believe Miller tore down Ike’s Hardware. The structure was sound, the floors made of good black cherry, and the building had years of life left. We watched the trucks from Lowe’s deliver sheet after sheet of thick glass. Glass had once been manufactured in Morningstar, and as I watched the men unload the trucks, I thought about the time when our town was busy and people had good, steady jobs.
The characters themselves come from a myriad of age groups, racial backgrounds, and social classes: professors, celebrities, grandparents, immigrants, bus drivers and high school students are but a small sampling of Lin-Greenberg’s character pool. She doesn’t veer away from discussing race within her stories, either; in both “Half and Half Club” and “Faulty Predictions,” characters’ racial backgrounds are significant to the plot, and are handled with sensitivity and nuance. In fact, “Half and Half Club” opens with a white teacher attempting inclusivity toward all of the students in the titular multicultural club:
Mrs. Cook wanted to ask the club members to bring in photographs of themselves and separate photographs of each of their parents. She would pin photos of the parents in random order above photos of the students on the bulletin board in the history hallway. Then she’d put cutout letters over the photographs spelling WHO ARE MY PARENTS? […] But Sparrow had thwarted her plan by showing up for the club’s second meeting last week. Sparrow Sanderson, vaguely Asian looking, vaguely Mexican looking, was the adopted son of Florence and Homer Sanderson. If she put Sparrow’s photograph up, WHO ARE MY PARENTS? would be a cruel question that could not be answered.
But perhaps Faulty Predictions’ biggest takeaway is how emotionally sincere the characters become as their respective stories proceed. Lin-Greenberg develops her protagonists with care and skill, instilling compassion and empathy in characters who often start off unlikeable. A grouchy, abrasive English professor breaks his own façade by showing affection for his infant grandson: “Pete quickly shifted his face into a blank expression; it would be mortifying if he was caught making silly faces at a baby.” A frigid brother goes to great lengths to secure a wedding dress for his sister: “But Carter was determined; the dress, he hoped, would help atone for the things he had done wrong, for the times when he hadn’t stood up for his sister.” The introverted son of a late-night talk show host realizes he may have misjudged his father’s entertainment persona:
“Before his father got his show, they would play talk show at home, and Spence always had to be the audience. Once, early on, he’d asked his father if he could be the host, but his father said no. […] By the time he was eight, Spence grew tired of playing talk show and began to resent the fact that his sole job was to cheer his father on. But now he thinks that maybe he misunderstood. Maybe it was important to his father to impress Spence, to make him laugh.”
Their unusual, yet uplifting displays of character development and the deconstruction of their hypocrisies are the most memorable aspects of the collection, and will pull readers back in again and again.
On its cover, bare legs awkwardly jut out of murky water, but the stories within Faulty Predictions are anything but misplaced—it’s clear why it won the 2013 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Karin Lin-Greenberg covers a lot of ground in this debut, emerging onto the literary scene as a force to be reckoned with—and I’m itching for more.
Look for a review of Faulty Predictions from Fiction Editor Ethan Keeley as well as an interview with author Karin Lin-Greenberg in Gandy Dancer 3.2 (coming soon!).