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Seth Fried

Seth Fried's short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including Tin House, One Story, McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, The Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, and Vice, and have been anthologized in The Better of McSweeney's, Volume 2, and The Pushcart Prize XXXV: The Best of the Small Presses.

Blurbs

"Fried’s settings travel the globe and leap across timelines . . . with such dazzling skill that the reader simply surrenders to these highly-entertaining and thought-provoking stories."

– National Book Critics Circle

"Seth Fried’s The Great Frustration is the kind of collection that makes you seethe just a little bit over how well it’s conceived, constructed, and written. There are almost no sour notes throughout the eleven stories, and there are plenty of moments of sheer brilliance."

– BOMB Magazine

"[T]here's a strain of absurdism in [Fried's] prose that combines pathos, unease, and dark humor to add depth and give these stories a sense of modernity and relevance."

– Publishers Weekly

"Seth Fried's stories are laugh-out-loud hilarious and wonderfully weird, yet his many strange worlds also have the power to haunt, echoing the sorrows and yearnings of ordinary life in the way dreams can."

– Dan Chaon

"Seth Fried should not be read by those with a heart condition, or by women who are nursing or pregnant. Do not read Seth Fried when driving or operating heavy machinery. Because his stories are not only addictive but dangerously good."

– Benjamin Percy

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The Great Frustration

Don’t let your reason get the best of you today.

10/19/12

This world is crazy weird. People are out doing wild and unexplainable things, living and dying in wild and unexplainable ways. The madness is a religion and I want awe to be my practice. Seth Fried’s stories make me want to stand up somewhere, somewhere high where people will see me, and let rip a wild, wild scream that rattles my body and shatters the windows. Because maybe, just maybe, all this sanity and order is only a veil. Beneath lies a bizarre world and bizarre lives that we are dutifully marching through. It pays to take notice.

Seth Fried’s collection, The Great Frustration, is a series of distinct stories. They aren’t bound together by theme or character and, with the exception of the final story, they are all very short. They are mostly narrated by some unexplained observer and there’s a gaping absence of characters. Fried’s dry wit and comedy has a way of being dark without quite realizing it, and for my money that’s the brilliance that shines through the stories. They are somehow intensely personal, human in a way that transcends a character. They are asking big questions that, at first, seem small. They are grim and profound and full of lots of human truthiness. And still you are laughing, just to yourself, at how ridiculous the whole thing is — this life, the world, and us in it.

My favorite of the collection is the title story, which I felt so compelled to read out loud to my boyfriend on the Metro. I might add that I’m not the sort of person to read out loud on the train, but I can’t say that I had a choice - the story made my senses crawl in such a way that I had to read it out loud to get it outside of myself. This story, The Great Frustration, takes us through a host of animals in the garden at the dawn of creation. The animals are discovering and fighting their very imperfect urges to maul and eat one another. The parrot sees a cat perched beside him on a tree branch and believes the cat to be jealous that it can’t fly. The cat wonders at his urge to feel the snap of the parrot’s neck between his jaws. A mite scales the hills and valleys of an elephant’s crotch and wonders if there’s nothing more to life.

I read this collection months ago and, for all these months, I have been telling everyone that I loved the stories without being able to explain quite why I loved them. After months of distilling, it has come down to this: a heart-aching longing. The emotion that these stories have drummed up inside of me is the pure and human longing for something that is just out of reach. In each story, we are grasping for ways to close gaps, to get a little bit of everything, to reach that thing we so desire. Months after reading the stories, I still feel an uncomfortable twinge, a memory, an urge that I can’t explain, a desire for something.

And this longing is bound up and tied in the final story of the collection, titled "Animalcula." We, the readers, are young scientists falling in love with a host of microscopic creatures known as animalcula. We are looking deeper and deeper still, clicking the dial on the microscope, magnifying again and again. With little prodding, we become completely enamored with these creatures — a love doomed to be unrequited. “That is: All animalcula are so small that, though they are all around us, it is as if they exist on a different plane than our own, one impossibly distant.”

So we are left with this longing, but it is an honest longing. It is not the kind that makes you despair; it is the kind that makes you realize you are human. So pull back the veil and take a look.

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