Hamburger

the toronto star, aug 13, 2016

Daniel Perry's first collection has a curious title, given hamburger's associations with grinding out inferior quality. But not so. The stories are arranged in three grinds, "coarse" (13 very short stories), "medium" (nine stories of more conventional length), and "fine" (which features a single novella, told from three perspectives). The Toronto writer's stories are entertaining, provocative and original.

 

the winnipeg review, june 6, 2016

Like the eponymous comfort food, this first collection of short fiction by Toronto writer Daniel Perry seems, at first glance, rather straightforward. Indeed, Hamburger has moments that feel ubiquitous in contemporary fiction; certain disaffections and critiques that must once have been novel have since been well articulated. Insurmountable cultural divides, alienation in the city, slow trickles of abuse that lead to angry outbursts... these are the concerns of Perry's stories. Though the themes are common, this is thoroughly by design. Perry's book is like the sandwich: the simple bread is a necessary vehicle for the red meat.

Divided into three sections — "Coarse," "Medium" and "Fine" — these twenty-three pieces vary greatly in content and style. The first section, a collection of very short stories, begins with the piece that gives the collection its title. Here an urban, office-working everyperson remembers and regrets, delights and despairs over his food-court meal. Humans as cows, aware in the slaughterhouse, "as a belt conveys your bodies toward the grinder." Coarse indeed.

Consider another one of these very short openers: "A Real Princess." Here Perry skewers the mania for Disneyesque princesses that seem to grip so many contemporary children (and their tired parents) by imagining some delightfully absurd consequences of growing up on a strict diet of Happily Ever After. As in "Hamburger," this story regurgitates some prevalent attitudes, but it does so with an entertaining bite that might just elicit some out-loud laughs. 

But if "Coarse" is a collection of miniatures which revisit established literary landscapes, the lengthier pieces of "Medium" showcase an author who is subtly pushing toward something more fresh. The absolute best in this section is the story "Vaporetto." Once again, the ingredients are not particularly rare: marital strife, guilt in the wake of trauma, an unfamiliar city for unfamiliar feelings and metafictional footnotes. Familiar stuff, but Perry handles it deftly. The writer-protagonist's first-person narrative blurs the borders between tragic events themselves and the account of those events. Those footnotes start off as meta-critiques (to wit: "Can I still say this? I hear it's all over Fifty Shades of Grey."), causing a weary groan at their first appearance. But they are redeemed when they eventually progress into meta-metafiction, critiquing themselves as clichés of contemporary writing "because David Foster Wallace used them." Stories like these show how Hamburger consistently skirts cliché from both sides, exploiting both the face value of the worn-out trope and the value of critical reflection. 

The final segment, "Fine," includes a single story: "Three Deaths of James Arthur Doole." The longest piece in the book, this too works with material that, considered in its broadest strokes, could seem overdone. A Canadian family heads to Europe to finally visit the grave of their patriarch who died in the War; the journey stirs up old grievances and long-buried secrets.

But once again, Perry layers the ordinary with subtle complexities that push us into new territory. The extended Doole family arrives in the Netherlands with varying levels of enthusiasm. When they arrive at the grave of James Arthur Doole, the grief of the family is strong, while Doole's widow seems unmoved. That night in the hotel, Mrs. Doole records her angry, disappointed history of James's life. She gives this account to her grandchild Garrett, a writer, but when he reinterprets Doole's life for War Stories Monthly, he falls almost entirely back into the romantic patterns of World War II fiction. These narrative strata are arranged such that none is more authoritative than any other. This is not a story of unreliable voices, or ambiguity, or shocking information that overturns previous understanding. This is a story about how reality is complicated and polyvalent. "Three Deaths of James Arthur Doole" is simultaneously earnest and ironic, simple and intricate. 

Daniel Perry's stories are confident and nuanced. However straightforward it may seem, Hamburger is much more than ordinary.

— Andrew Woodrow-Butcher, The Winnipeg Review

 

quill & quire, june 2016

The stories in Daniel Perry's debut collection are arranged in three sections — Coarse, Medium, and Fine — corresponding to three textures of hamburger meat. This provides an obvious link to the book's title (which also serves as the title of the first story) and sketches a very rough breakdown of the forms the stories take. The Coarse stories are quite short — one consisting of a single sentence and most of the others running only a few pages. The Medium stories average around 10 pages each, and the final section — Fine — consists of a single story divided into three parts. 

Tastes in hamburger vary, but as far as this reviwer's palatte is concerned, Perry's shorter pieces are the most successful: narrow slices of contemporary life dealing with characters who seem to have just missed epiphanic moments, as though being late for a bus. Relationships slide apart, and often appear not to have been based on anything concrete in the first place.

The first story sets the tone, with its wannabe-writer protagonist reading Updike in a hamburger joint while connecting on some imaginary romantic level with a teenage counter girl. We are in a landscape of fast food and garbage, with the two often being equated (the story begins with an image of Dumpsters that "serve hungry truck mouths"). Junk food is a leitmotif in a number of the stories, via characters working in the fast food industry, or, on a metaphorical level, as a stand-in for our disposable culture. Junk news, for example, finds its way into a local newspaper in the story "Gleaner," disrupting lives in the process. Though even junk news, the story suggests, can reveal truth. Even a "crappy, point-and-shoot" picture has the capacity to uncover beauty.

In the longer pieces, Perry seems less at ease. The writing continues to be brief and discontinuous, more grounded in revealing moments and impressions than in conventional narrative, though a self-regarding note in a couple of stories — "Vaporetto" and "Three Deaths of James Arthur Doole" — suggests discomfort with such conventions. 

Hamburger has flavour, but it's best enjoyed in small bites.

— Alex Good, Quill & Quire

SPG REVIEWS, october 12, 2016

Hamburger, Daniel Perry’s new collection of short fiction published by Saskatoon’s Thistledown Press, is loaded with clever, provocative, thoughtful tales. Perry’s stories span moments from comedy to horror to pathos, and the collection explores familiar themes such as travel, discovery, loss, and false belief. But Perry’s fresh voice, narrative twists, and playful telling will keep readers turning pages.

Even the briefest of Perry’s stories are peopled by ordinary folks at unusual, sometimes awkward moments. Some involve little epiphanies, such as “Rocky Steps,” which features a single mother with thwarted dreams. Some reveal universal human failings, such as “Gleaner,” which looks at small-town life and how rumours work. Several stories involve dying parents and how their families are affected by grief and change. What stands out about these stories is their emotional core: the basic humanness of characters in stark circumstances.

Also impressive is Perry’s reach. Some of the stories take experimental forms, from the second-person address of the title story to the alternating narration of “Pleasure Craft,” in which waterskiing becomes an opportunity for remaking a relationship. There’s also the short speculative fiction “Aria di Gelato,” which explores the tiny important moments of a life, and “Be Your Own Master,” a twisted noir-ish story in which a program of self-improvement goes horribly wrong. The self-consciously David Foster Wallace-inspired “Vaparetto,” in which a writer traces the extremes of personal attachment and intellectual detachment, is written with a wry voice and a dab hand. It’s tight, sly storytelling.

Speaking of writers, quite a few of the stories in this book are about writing and the privilege and costs of the writing life. Perry has said that the arc of the volume reflects the development of a young writer, from aspiring to accomplished. The final story, “Three Deaths of James Arthur Doole,” uses various forms of storytelling, including a professional writer’s take, to explore how people create the stories they need from the materials they have. It’s admirably done.

From witty micro-fictions to fully developed short stories, Perry’s narratives are engaging, appealing, and surprisingly emotional. Hamburger is a rich, tasty pick!

— Leslie Vermeer, SaskBooks

interview - the town crier: puritan magazine, june 15, 2016

Jason Freure: Why the title Hamburger?

Daniel Perry: I wrote “Hamburger” (the story) when I was just starting to get published, just starting to believe I could get a book written one day, and it was the first story I read in public, too. I thought that the feeling of being ground down that comes through that story was reflected in a lot of the work, though I’d stop short of saying one title could perfectly reflect 23 pieces compiled over 10 years; you eventually just have to pick one. That “Hamburger” meant something to me personally gave it extra points.

JF: The book is subdivided into sections: Coarse, Medium, and Fine. I got the sense that the stories in each section had a little more artifice than the last, even if they all have something to do with feeling like shit. Which section came first when you writing this book?

DP: The oldest story in the book is “Aria di Gelato” (from “Medium”), which I first drafted in 2006. The last section written was “Fine,” the final one that contains just the one long story, “Three Deaths of James Arthur Doole”; I had wanted to write that story for years but didn’t tackle it until I had most of the rest of the collection together. The order and division into groups wasn’t determined in advance, though, so much as the stories were arranged once they were all finished. Thinking about it now, it reminds me of something Martin Scorsese said in an interview (paraphrase): along the way, the editing process becomes less about what you wanted to make and more about what you did make.

JF: In “Medium,” we get more characters telling stories. “Vaporetto,” for example, is framed as a short story written by a creative writing professor sending it to a friend. There are more layers with each “grind.” It makes me wonder if you have a theory about storytelling, or what happens to characters when the story is more complex?

DP: I think I emerged from editing Hamburger with something like a theory, but the analogy of the different grinds also came to me quite late in the process. I front-loaded the collection with flash largely as a practical consideration, hoping it would build some momentum for the reading experience, but when I stacked these pieces up beside the longer stories I came to see them as the “first pass” over the subject matter: moments of disorientation for the reader, or hit-and-runs, from the writer’s perspective. Once I stuck myself with this scheme, the longest story in the book (“Three Deaths”) had to be called the finest grind and placed last in the collection.

JF: Toronto shows up in a few stories. “Hamburger” seems like it takes place in a Hero Burger. “Aria di Gelato” takes place in Dufferin Mall. Set in an old-school Italian community: working class families, kids who work at the mall with grandparents and girlfriends who live up the street. What was the motivation for setting a story in that world?

DP: The short answer is, I grew up working-class, so in my experience work has always felt inextricable from people’s lives: our obligations and our expectations say a lot about us, and so many of them are tied to what we do (often, what we “have to do”) for a living. I see fictional characters in the same way; I’ve always had a hard time buying into characters who don’t work. I think I could extend that thought to why Toronto shows up, too: my fiction feels more believable to me when I anchor it in a real place, a real history, a real economy, etc.

JF: If I wanted to turn Hamburger into a combo deal, what books, albums, movies, or whatever else, would round it out?

DP: At the risk of causing indigestion:

Books: Charles Bukowski’s Post Office, Helen Potrebenko’s Taxi!, George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, Russell Smith’s Girl Crazy, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn.

Movies: The Dardenne brothers (Two Days, One Night; The Kid with the Bike; The Child).

Music: Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and about half of The River. And Arctic Monkeys’ AM, too.