Article Published: Aug. 23, 2012 | Modified: Aug. 23, 2012
Books of short stories are not widely published. They typically are not best-seller popular. Some of them should be. This is one of those.
“Sorry Please Thank You” by Charles Yu is a desperate book.
It’s minimal, funny and observant in the way of Raymond Carver cum Douglas Adams cum Kurt Vonnegut, and you don’t want to read it while sardined on a road trip with happy friends heading to Some Great Place.
You want to read this book while sitting alone on a bus, with the fading taste of a last kiss, as you head off to College Orientation.
You want to read this book at 3 a.m. with a glass of cheap wine in a two-star hotel after insomnia sets in from some numbing Business Trip.
Still, you want to read this book.
Yu takes us to a place we rarely take ourselves. To that place Murray finds himself in, in “Adult Contemporary”: “an empty theme park, an hour before it opens, not quite ready to be the place it is supposed to be.”
Let that sink in. That’s your life, on the pinnacle of the potential for greatness before greatness happens.
Like that theme park, these stories feel wrong, but only because we’re forced to admit they are so right in the Carver-esque way they portray the minutiae of our lives that turns out, in the end, to be the really important stuff.
Murray isn’t in a theme park. He’s opting between “The Brad” and “The Jake” — the purchase of a new life, sign on the dotted line, and write a script you can never escape.
Really important stuff, such as raw emotions — the painful kind — that you can sell in “Standard Loneliness Package.” Root canal, confession to a spouse, the funeral of a child: Let someone take the pain for you, for a price: “Not that I get the money. The company gets it. What I get is twelve dollars an hour, plus reimbursement for painkillers. Not that they work.”
What does work is Yu’s overall perspective of our lives.
Those voices in your head are found in “Note to Self.” The weekend warrior you are is computer generated in the Adams-like “Hero Absorbs Major Damage.”
And so it goes.
Until you reach the end and the title story where Yu, a la Vonnegut, reveals the really, really important stuff — that “sorry, please, thank you” form the basis of … everything.
Yu is the author of “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe,” a New York Times Notable Book. “Sorry Please Thank You” is published by Pantheon in hard cover and in a pure white jacket over white board. If you’re a book purist that can’t stand a smudge, advise friends and family to get their own copy — because you’ll want them to read it.