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Vanilla Bright Like Eminem

Michel Faber

Don, son of people no longer living, husband of Alice, father of Drew and Aleesha, is very, very close to experiencing the happiest moment of his life."

Reviewed by Ilana Teitelbaum

Famous for the bestselling novel The Crimson Petal and the White, set in the Victorian era, Michel Faber is back—but this time there isn’t a corset or a scented handkerchief in sight. In this collection, Faber has assembled a wide range of moods, emotions, and even realities; the overall experience is that of a surreal roller-coaster ride—with images and characters that stay with you. 

Not all the stories employ devices of science fiction or surrealism. Some are purely psychological in their focus, such as Andy Comes Back, in which the protagonist awakens from a five-year coma to discover that his marriage will never be the same. Another such story is The Smallness of Action, about a young mother of an infant who begins to realize how fatally easy it is to harm her baby. This horrid little story about a mother who experiences no empathy at all for her child is difficult to explicate, since it is uncertain whether she is genuinely incapable of empathy or suffering from post-natal depression. As such, its principal effect is simply to shock. 

The title story of the collection, Vanilla Bright Like Eminem, is perhaps one of the most poignant and subtly rendered of the stories. This story gives us a tiny moment in a man’s life, delicately portraying the fragility of the present moment while also offering an insight into the true meaning and value of happiness. 

And then there are the stories in which a device that is either surreal or science fiction is incorporated into the tale. Perhaps the oddest of these is Explaining Coconuts, which almost must be read to be believed: In the story, a group of the world’s wealthiest men pay a fortune in order to sit in a conference room and watch a woman give a presentation on the properties of the coconut. The presentation clearly delivers an extraordinary erotic charge to the audience, but the reader is left puzzled as to why. Most puzzling is the emphasis the author gives to the notion that this experience is so incredible that only the very rich can afford it. 

In my view the best stories of the collection are those that explore a fragment of someone’s life, even if it is only a tiny moment in time, and somehow illuminate that single moment in significance. Whether it is a young woman renewing her relationship with her son after a long absence in rehab and the hospital, or a father and husband realizing all that he has before the currents of time wash it all away, Faber is at his best with characters whose experiences speak to us.

Read the title story from this collection in Prospect Magazine.

Ilana Teitelbaum is a freelance writer and editor living in Jerusalem.

Ilana's other Short Reviews: Susanna Clarke's "The Ladies of Grace Adieu"   


PublisherHarcourt Trade Publishers

Publication Date: 2005

Paperback/Hardback? Hardback

First collection?No

Author bio: Michel Faber is a Dutch-born author who writes in English and currently resides in Scotland. His other publications include the novel The Crimson Petal and the White and the short story collection The Apple.

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