Channeling Steven Millhauser by way of George Saunders, The Great Frustration is a sparkling debut, equal parts fable and wry satire. Seth Fried balances the dark–a town besieged, a yearly massacre, the harem of a pathological king–with moments of sweet optimism–researchers unexpectedly inspired by discovery, the triumph of a doomed monkey, the big implications found in a series of tiny creatures.
In “Loeka Discovered,” a buzz flows throughout a lab when scientists unearth a perfectly preserved prehistoric man who suggests to them the hopefulness of life, but the more they learn, the more the realities of ancient survival invade their buoyant projections. “Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre” meditates on why an entire town enthusiastically rushes out to the annual picnic that ends, year after year, in a massacre of astonishing creativity and casualty. The title story illuminates the desires and even the violence that surges beneath the tenuous peace among the animals in the Garden of Eden.
Fried’s stories suggest that we are at our most compelling and human when wrestling with the most frustrating aspects of both the world around us and of our very own natures–and in the process shows why he is a talent to be watched.
Seth Fried’s The Great Frustration is the kind of collection that makes you seethe just a little bit over how well it’s conceived, constructed, and written. There are almost no sour notes throughout the eleven stories, and there are plenty of moments of sheer brilliance. Taking small quotients from the greats across every field of prose, Fried is at once channeling Carver, Kafka, Saunders, and Barthelme, while never fully embracing any of them. As debut collections go, The Great Frustration is on par with some of the very best . . . With this collection, [Fried] has, bit by bit, dismantled everything around us that we take for granted. From those pieces, he built an entire new set of rules and axioms, and then further made a whole new, little world that is almost exactly the same as the one that preceded it, just with slight, barely discernible, truly fantastic variations.
Such an imagination is refreshing, but even more rewarding is that [Fried’s] stories don’t rely solely on concept or conceit, and trudge forward into the lovely mess of strong characters wedged into dramatic circumstance . . . there’s a strain of absurdism in his prose that combines pathos, unease, and dark humor to add depth and give these stories a sense of modernity and relevance.
Seth Fried’s stories are laugh-out-loud hilarious and wonderfully weird, yet his many strange worlds also have the power to haunt, echoing the sorrows and yearnings of ordinary life in the way dreams can. This is an inspired and inspiring collection from an important new young writer.
Seth Fried has a wildly humorous imagination, but also sharp technical skills and beauty of language that weaves deep examinations of self and humanity into the inner folds of his crazy worlds. He’s channeling Saunders by way of Barthelme and Kafka, but also clearing a whole new territory of his own. Listen up and open this book: Seth Fried is the future of fiction.
Seth Fried should not be read by those with a heart condition, or by women who are nursing or pregnant. Do not read Seth Fried when driving or operating heavy machinery. Because his stories are not only addictive but dangerously good. He will make your heart stop and your jaw drop. You will suffer from bouts of thoughtful silence and seizures of hilarity and may even soil yourself with pleasure. Consider yourself warned.
These powerful and beautifully absurd stories create poetry from the collected voice of those who love and hate and dream and yearn. They stirred my imagination and time and time again seduced me into reflecting on the hopefulness and vulnerabilities of being human. The Great Frustration is a wonderfully original debut.
These stories are joyful, breathtaking, and ridiculously funny. Yes, there is darkness and violence and the constant threat of unhappy endings, but Fried is such a stunning writer, you actually love the coming disaster because it is so perfectly presented on the page.
In The Great Frustration, Seth Fried creates elaborate set pieces, populates them with living, breathing characters, arranges them for maximum chaos, and then sets it all in motion, inviting you to watch catastrophe and disaster and ruin. Even if you wanted to stop reading, you couldn’t: his sentences drive you forward with a relentless rhythm, breaking your heart, then reassembling it, then breaking it again, and you don’t even mind, because he’s also making you laugh out loud.