Third Class Superhero (review)

This is a pretty fun collection. Charles Yu’s Third Class Superhero has some good light scifi/speculative influences, along with a George Saunders-ian blend of dark but sympathetic takes on modern everyday life (cf. “the Capitalized Phrases, offering entry into an Exclusive Club for People Who Get It“). It’s fatalistic, but still curious.

Goofiness pops up in the title story (read an extended excerpt):

Every morning, when I open my eyes, I think the same four thoughts:

1) I am not a superhero.

2) I have to go to work.

3) If I didn’t have to work, I could be a superhero.

4) If I were a superhero, I wouldn’t have to work.

Ladies and gentlemen, Moisture Man. One of my favorite stories was “401(k)”, which has a tongue-in-cheek exploration of the treadmill of consumer society and life’s template.

The Realtor is showing us our dreams. “Private, affordable, midrange,” he says. I never thought I’d have midrange dreams.

And later in the same story, a sequence on aging:

The thirties and forties. The long run. The lifelong conversation. Somewhere in here we’ll get incredibly lost, wander around in the desert, and get spit out on the other side of fifty-nine and a half, into the land of penalty-free-IRA-withdrawal, looking around like we just popped out of a quarter-century fun-park water slide tube, thinking, Where am I, how did I get here, can I do it again?

Maybe my favorite bit in the whole book, a poke at how we think about travel:

We plan a vacation. We want to see the Other. The travel agent sends us literature, glossies, video brochures. We choose a package deal with Authentic ExperiencesTM****. According to the brochure, there are five kinds of Experience: Urban, Rural, Semirural, Ethnic, and Ethnic with Danger. Standard Endangerment is Mild or Implied, but those in the know understand they may inquire discreetly about Actual Hazard—e.g., I’ve heard there might be something more?…

This kind of writing – where skills of observation meet clever exaggeration – is just so fun:

Five-year-olds are playing soccer nearby. More specifically, they are viciously kicking one another in the shins while a soccer ball sits unharmed in the vicinity.

My other favorite story is probably “32.05864991%”, which explores “why men are such terrible emotional statisticians”, and the existing of two different Englishes – “the language of the wanted and the language of the one doing the wanting.”, and what exactly “maybe” means. I love this bit that touches on nervousness and superstition:

He has two shirts left in the current dry-cleaning cycle and a pile of shirts on the floor and a pair of brand-new slacks with the tag still on that he doesn’t want to touch for fear that any deviations from his normal routine will affect something that happens during the day and turn “maybe” into “no.” In order to avoid disturbing whatever tension lines of cause and effect may be between him and Janine, he has to minimize perturbations in the system and allow chance to take him where it will.

Good stuff.