Benjamin Hale's fiction abounds with a love of language and a wild joy for storytelling. In prose alternately stark, lush, and hallucinatory, occasionally nightmarish and often absurd, the seven stories in this collection are suffused with fear and desire, introducing us to a company of indelible characters reeling with love, jealousy, megalomania, and despair. As in his acclaimed debut novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, the voices in these stories speak from the margins: a dominatrix whose longtime client, a U.S. congressman, drops dead during a tryst in a hotel room; an addict in precarious recovery who lands a job driving a truck full of live squid; a heartbroken performance artist who attempts to eat himself to death as a work of art. From underground radicals hiding in Morocco to an aging hippie in Colorado in the summer before 9/11 to a young drag queen in New York at the cusp of the AIDS crisis, these stories rove freely across time and place, carried by haunting, peculiar narratives, threads in the vast tapestry of American life. Weaving a pleasure in the absurd with an exploration of the extraordinary variety of the human condition and the sway our most private selves and hidden pasts hold over us, the stories in The Fat Artist reside in the unnerving intersections between life and death, art and ridicule, consumption and creation.
Benjamin Hale writes from an altitude that is entirely his own. The view from up there - a hilariously zoological panorama of Americans at their most frail, feral, and blundering - is also entirely his own. The Fat Artist is a brilliant, ceaselessly engaging book. -- Joseph O'Neill From Morocco to Montana, and include the tale of the U.S. congressman who expires during a tryst in a hotel room and the adventures of an addict who lands a job driving a truck full of live squid ... Dazzling. Daily Mail Hale reveals himself to be a virtuoso ... [His] prose is so enjoyable. Times Literary Supplement From an artist who nearly eats himself to death to a woman who accidentally feeds her baby hallucinogenics ... Fascinating. Independent [An] excellent new story collection ... Hale's writing is measured and expansive at the same time; he constructs beautiful but never showy sentences. He has the capacity to shock, but he doesn't abuse it; even his oddest stories seem believable, and that's largely due to the care he puts into creating his imperfect, memorable characters ... Some of them are about to die; some of them have to face up to the long, complicated lives ahead of them. Hale treats all of them with care, and like the flare of a satellite that will one day decay and crash back down to Earth, it's oddly beautiful and impossible to look away from. Los Angeles Times Fascinating tales that cover a huge range of characters, who will linger in your mind long after you've put down the book. Press Association Hale's well-hewn, often violent tales are saturated with sadness and full of strange, marginal folk, but the thoughts, desires, and failures of these oddball characters are acutely recognizable ... the reader comes away grateful for the sincerity of their melancholy quests to find meaning, love, and the purposes of their ill-fated lives ... This book is at once absurd, morbid, melancholy, ridiculous, and disturbing. Publisher's Weekly (starred review) Generous, unfolding at a decidedly unhurried pace, the stories in The Fat Artist seem at first to be so precise in the portraits they draw and so specific in their emotional concerns that it takes a while to recognize the fine strands connecting them to American history, culture, and everyday life, strands that will ensnare the lucky readers of this collection as well. Benjamin Hale's writing has range, depth, soul, and music. -- Christopher Sorrentino, author of The Fugitives and Trance, a finalist for the National Book Award