33. The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel
I polished this off in one day of riding around the Metro. The second story in the collection takes place in D.C. as a matter of fact.
The title story unfortunately did not live up to the curiosity its title induced. It felt very typical of the sort of story one might find in a literary magazine, a college boy's account of dealing with a friend dying of AIDS. The Helsinki Roccamatios are a fictional family the boys invent to pass the time and create a distraction. Family events are based on events from an encyclopedia of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, the readers don't get to hear the stories, only the facts, that is the encyclopedia entries, behind them. This was one of those incredibly frustrating stories when you don't want to be reading what you're reading, you want to read the stories the characters you're reading about are creating. They sound a lot more interesting and I wish writers would do that more often.
My favorite was probably the second story, The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton. The descriptions of the music were intriguing, and the topic, an orchestra of former Vietnam vets discovered by a young Canadian, at least a little more unusual.
The other two stories are more experimental in terms of format, but not in any particularly transcendent way. The last story, about an old machine that makes mirrors written out of stories, caught my fancy just a bit.
Stories like these can show the author's potential and show where successful authors found their roots. Still, I think they belong in literary magazines and only this author's later success allowed him to publish this book.