“The Surf Guru” by Doug Dorst

“The Surf Guru” by Doug Dorst – stories (2010) – 275 pages

Certainly the New Yorker magazine is the most prominent publisher of individual stories in the United States.   I have read and enjoyed many stories that were originally published in the New Yorker, but there are quite a few other reviews and magazines that publish fiction.  Early on while reading “The Surf Guru”, I checked to see where each individual story was originally published.  StoryQuarterly, Ploughshares, Cutbank, ZYZZYVA, Epoch, McSweeney’s, Five Points, Five Chapters, Gulf Coast, Politically Inspired:Fiction for Our Time.  Though I have nothing against New Yorker fiction, I still find this fact that not one of these stories was first published in the New Yorker tremendously encouraging. 

In the well-written stories of “The Surf Guru”, very little time is spent by the main characters on introspection or self doubt.  In the first three stories, the main character is an entrepreneur.  In the first story the main character is a designer and manufacturer of surfing equipment and accessories for his company called GOO-ROO.   In the second story the main character is the woman owner of Kacy’s Kitchen, which creates wedding cakes for society weddings.  In the third story the main character is the owner of a taco stand in Mexico.  It has been my experience that entrepreneurs are nearly the least introspective people in the world.  The people in these stories are people operating in the real world, not us more meditative literary types.   From the above you get a sense of the wide variety of stories in this collection.  Besides these, there is a story about Van Gogh, a few stories about young adults partying,  and a story about a young man charged with guarding the chopped off head of an enemy.   

In a certain sense, these stories are more adventurous in spirit and form than the typical New Yorker story.   The story “The Surf Guru” is divided into very short sections each with its own heading.  The long story “Splitters” reminded me very much of the Roberto Bolano biographical sketch novel “Nazi Literature in the Americas”.  “Splitters” consists of short biographical sketches of a group of botanists, and the humor is broader than Bolano’s.

Though the form of some of these stories is somewhat experimental, Doug Dorst is a solid story teller, and even in the experimental stories the qualities of a good story are there.    These stories make me want to read Dorst’s novel “Alive in Necropolis”.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Looks good. I’ve been reading more short stories lately, don’t know Dorst’s work, and yes, it is good to find non-New Yorker-related fiction.

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    • Hi Frisbee,
      I don’t know about you, but if you look at my posts for the last three months there are probably more short story collections than novels. For one thing, I believe if a writer can’t write effective short stories, there is little chance they will write a great novel. But there’s always an exception to the rule – I don’t believe Phillip Roth has attempted a short story yet, a lot of novellas, but no short stories.

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  2. […] “The Surf Guru” by Doug Dorst « Tony's Book World […]

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  3. In case some of you are interested, KQED’s “The Writers’ Block” just published an episode of Doug Dorst reading from The Surf Guru:

    http://www.kqed.org/arts/programs/writersblock/episode.jsp?essid=36066

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