Nick Hornby

American Ache

Blue River

By

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To describe Emperor of the Air, Ethan Canin’s debut, as yet another collection of short stories by a young American with a Raymond Carver furation would be a little like describing Mrs Thatcher as a backbench MP – strictly accurate, but somewhat incomplete. The book caused something of a sensation in the States, where it was a bestseller (its author’s advance prompted one critic to mutter darkly about jealous competitors sticking pins in Canin voodoo dolls), and received superlative reviews over here. It really was good, too, full of sturdily built and lovingly detailed vignettes of California, all of which seemed (liked the best of Carver’s work) to wring resonance out of the flattest material. I would love to say, just once, that this is a second book which more than fulfils the promise of the first, that if you thought the debut was good, you should read this one, but in truth Blue River (Canin’s first novel) is a crunching, jarring disappointment.

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