Charles Yu experiments with form and genre to explore the stories we tell ourselves while navigating contemporary life. In "Third Class Superhero," a would- be good guy must come to terms with the darkness in his heart. A couple living in the Luxury Car Commercial subdivision in "401(k)" are disappointed when their exotic vacation turns into a Life Insurance/Asset Management pitch. The author struggles to write the definitive biography of his mother in "Autobiographical Raw Material Unsuitable for the Mining of Fiction." In these and other stories, Yu’s characters run up against the conventions and parameters of their artificial story lines while tackling the terrifying aspects of existence: mothers, jobs, spouses, the need to express feelings.
Heartbreaking, hilarious, smart, and surprising, Third Class Superhero marks the arrival of an impressive new talent.
Issues of identity and insecurity simmer throughout Yu's debut collection, an imaginative excursion into the burrow Kafka built.. In "My Last Days as Me," the unnamed star of the hit TV show Me and My Mother chafes at the recasting of his onscreen mother and eradicates the line between actor and character. The unnamed man in "Man of Quiet Desperation Goes on Short Vacation" evaluates his existential condition as frequently as a time-obsessed man checks his watch. And in the title story, "Moisture Man" strives to improve his position in the superhero hierarchy, which means constant self-appraisal and comparison to his more successful counterparts ("fireball shooters. A few are ice makers. Half a dozen telepath/empaths"). Yu flirts with formal experimentation-"Problems for Self-Study" unfolds as a complicated multiple choice test, for example-but tempers his fantastical constructions with level prose. (The first two paragraphs of "The Man Who Became Himself" are "He was turning into something unspeakable" and "At the office, people avoided the issue.") There is abundant humor, though, and Yu allows the reader to feel pathos without patronization; a neat trick, in a compulsively readable collection. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.