This is the way it worked out for me with Samantha Memi’s new short story collection All in Letters Bound in String: I read the first story “Stars in Cars”, and I didn’t know quite what to make of it. It was offbeat and humorous, depicting a mildly surreal car race between a plethora of celebrities past and present, but it ended far too abruptly to have any idea of what the rest of the collection was going to give me.
Generally, I gain a sense of what I can expect from a short story collection by the tone and length of the first piece. The first story either sends me rushing to the next one, or it makes me put down the book, and feel as though there is no huge hurry to pick it up again. That first story establishes the universe I am visiting, and I can often enough finish with at least an idea of what kind of universe it is going to be.
That wasn’t the case with Memi’s collection. I continued on, since I liked “Stars in Cars”, but I felt as though I was moving into a universe of thought I generally didn’t visit. I felt oddly ill-prepared for whatever Memi was going to line up next, but I was at least game.
Reading on turned out to be a good instinct. I just didn’t know what to anticipate at all, and that made me a little more unsettled than I should probably admit. Nonetheless, All in Letters Bound in String contains nearly fifty short stories. You can read most of them in just a few minutes. You will read several of them again (I did this with “24 Hours from Tulsa” and “A Girl in a Whirl with a Toy of a Boy”). You will understand that Samantha Memi is coolly brilliant at three things. She has a layered, intelligent sense of the absurd. The second thing is that she is so concise, you almost think you’ve missed something in the words (you learn to suppress this thought, as you fall deeper and deeper into her wonderful stories).
The third thing you learn from reading All in Letters Bound in String is that Samantha Memi is multitalented in her approach to humorous fiction. Several different types of comedy make up this weird little cafeteria of stories. Most of them retain a consistency of Memi’s fondness for the driest of the dry wit. However, there is a still a startling variety to how she approaches the inherent silliness of many of her subjects. Then there are stories that are still on the ridiculous side of things, but clearly wear a heart on their sleeves that is more somber than the other offerings. Memi’s quick, smart dialogue is another consistency, and it can be found across almost every single page of this collection.
“Variety” is a word worth mentioning again. Samantha Memi hardly seems to have exhausted her voice by the time the last story leaves the stage. It is obvious that she could say more. No doubt, she has only unearthed two or three feet of the seemingly endless raw materials that are available to her.
Samantha Memi's All in Letters Bound in String is now available from her Etsy page.