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 Short Story Collection Review    

 

Bibliophilia: A Novella and Stories
By Michael Griffith
Arcade Publishing, 2003
Hardcover, $24.95 (256 pages) 
ISBN: 1559706767

 

 
 

Michael Griffith is a wordsmith who writes of simple things in a complicated, and sometimes, excruciatingly-detailed manner.  But, it is always entertaining. 

In this, his second fictional foray, he includes in Bibliophilia a novella of the same name with some short stories.  In the novella, he shares with us the life and thoughts of an Egyptian foreign exchange student named Seti.  This nerdy, conservative, and shy teenager, who thinks of himself as a hapless product of his cultural antiquity, is trying to assimilate into a Louisiana college campus society, where he is studying hydrology.  He has an ambition to go back to his country and sink wells, irrigate crops and run canals so that the desert might flourish and his people reclaim their former might in a modern world. 

However, he is sidetracked by the bedlam of the New World into which he has been deposited by plane.  Although he lives in a crime-ridden slum and works part time as a librarian’s assistant to earn expense money, he is bedazzled by this land.  He has “surrendered to the cheap seductions of cable television or cupcakes in clear plastic…or these milky southern girls in their bows and jumpers.” 

Alas, he is too nerdy and lacks the fluency of the language as of yet to get along with the girls who swarm about him.  One in particular—Lili—he longs for, yet he has to spend his time with riff-raff from the off-campus slum in order to pick up enough slang language skills just to communicate with her so she can understand him. 

Introduced also is Myrtle, the “49-year old Mistress of Library Science,” who spent her youth in the arms of every man she saw.  Only, now, after many years of working as a research assistant for a legal firm, she has settled for less in life; much less.  Her life is boring, her husband ignores her, and now her job is getting crazy.  The head librarian, Mort Bozeman, has armed her with a nightclub (a large black flashlight with a 6-battery cell holder), with which to remove the sexually active college teens from the book stacks in the midst of their frivolity and ban them from the library.  He has even paid to send her to “bouncer school” to teach her how best to divest the library of these horny scamps. 

As Myrtle and Seti explore the up-and-down, upside down, logically motivated but realistically-challenged surroundings of the university, its different strata of students and faculty, as well as search for meaning and sexual fulfillment, they meet.  Together, they try to help each other as friends to establish a compass from which to guide themselves through the morass of conflicting themes in their lives.   

But the experiences of the book are only half the story.  The other half is the way that the author piles line after line together, stringing half-truths, misconceptions, and funny or sardonic word-jests at the reader.  It reminds me of when I went to cattle country and ordered a steak dinner one time; all they brought out was a huge steak with little else.  I looked at the several-pound piece of roasted meat and asked myself, “Where’s the salad, or the potato, or something else to break up the meal?”  With Mr. Griffith it is the same.  One has to munch on the steak all the time.  It has the effect of wearing your mind down, the way my gums were worn down by the huge steak and made weary.  Also, when he demands your attention so very much to the construction of language, you either forget or quit caring for the characters sometimes.   

Don’t get me wrong.  I love to read his work.  Only, I think with his next book, if he could let us have some salad or potato or glass of tea once in a while, we might be able to cleanse our palate enough to savor the steak and appreciate it more.

 

Robert L. Hall
Southern Scribe Reviews

     

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