In Donald Antrim’s The Emerald Light in the Air, readers experience an emotional roller coaster: it may or may not end in disaster, but readers of this book of short stories will feel strangely placid while heading toward that end. The stories, particularly “An Actor Prepares” and “Another Manhattan,” foster intense empathy for the characters as their realism encourages a strong connection. The reader learns with them throughout the stories, discovering their major flaws along the way. Anything is possible with Antrim as he builds concern for his characters and keeps readers turning pages.
Much of Antrim’s stories involve dark humor. This specialty may lead readers to discover a dark-humor-loving side that they did not know they had. The main character in “An Actor Prepares,” Reginald Barry, is reminiscent of Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and Antrim’s writing style resembles Nabokov’s as well.
Barry, a middle-aged dean and drama teacher at a cruddy college, conducts the school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He runs a pretty risqué show, casting himself as Lysander. A “skinny, balding, unmarried” middle-aged man’s desire to act alongside college boys and girls seems somewhat perverted, much like Humbert’s connection with “nymphs.”
Antrim’s dark, yet captivating narrative style continuously calls Nabokov to mind in that the narrator seems so mysteriously appealing. The often times uncomfortable darkness does not inhibit readers’ connection to the characters, but rather often fosters it. Those who enjoy Nabokov’s Lolita or a good, dark-humored laugh every once in a while will appreciate The Emerald Light in the Air.
Krista Jenkins is a self-diagnosed “eclecticist.” Growing up in Atlanta sparked her interest for R&B and noisy lifestyles, but after moving to Nashville she fell in love with country music and the atmosphere in a quiet coffee shop. She loves books and will read anything from graphic novels to classic literature.
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