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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Anthropology

by
Dan Rhodes


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Anthropology



Title: Anthropology
Author: Dan Rhodes
Genre: Stories
Written: 2000
Length: 203 pages
Availability: Anthropology - US
Anthropology - UK
Anthropology - Canada
  • and a Hundred Other Stories

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Our Assessment:

B- : some clever bits, but too much that's forced and unimaginative

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent A 11/3/2000 Gareth Evans
The NY Times Book Rev. . 24/9/2000 Lori Leibovich
The Times . 10/2/2001 Elizabeth Judge


  From the Reviews:
  • "The semi-confessional tone of the writing is tuned to an endearing pitch; these stories work both separately and cumulatively to catch the tension between idealised worship and self-fulfilling despair. Effortless to read, amusing, and yet coloured by a deep sadness about the passing of things, these prose haikus display a psychological and verbal precision that ranges across anecdote, character and, sometimes, a whole compressed life." - Gareth Evans, The Independent

  • "Reading these tales is like sitting at a bar next to a lonely heart who won't stop rattling on about his amorous woes. At first you're sympathetic, then you start to wish he'd go away." - Lori Leibovich, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This is not a dating manual, though, just a hilarious exploration of the challenges posed by the fairer sex. Despite being written from a male perspective, it will entertain any woman who can laugh at her own foibles." - Elizabeth Judge, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Anthropology is a collection of one hundred and one very short stories -- each, apparently (we didn't try to verify this) exactly one hundred and one words in length.
       About a third of them begin with the words: "My girlfriend ..."; one suspects Rhodes meant to begin them all that way but couldn't quite pull that off. Unfortunately, it's always a different girlfriend (who is unfortunately too often essentially almost the same) -- and, even though the pieces are all related by a first person narrator, there's no sense of a real "I" either. The pieces are separate, each a different world unto themselves; that's fine, but the incessant yet never same "I"s telling their different tales ultimately lead to a disconnect that borders on boredom. (Many of the girlfriends get names -- fancy, ridiculous ones (Nightjar, Melody, Tortoiseshell, etc.; yes, that gets tiresome too) -- and one suspects the collection would have been more successful (if less immediate) if a third person narrator related them and the male leads were identified as seperate individuals.)
       Admittedly, the "I" of the stories is almost unchanging (though the same can't be said about his circumstances). He's a hapless sort of fellow, and there's practically always a girl involved, and there's lots of passion and often a very basic misunderstanding. So there's Tammy, who the narrator believes is "a successful traveling salesman", (love-)blind to the fact that she's obviously a prostitute. In other stories, the narrator overlooks obvious infidelities, or deals with the ex- or future boyfriends of his girlfriend. As the 101 variations suggest, one of the themes is how love can conquer all but reality can still undo it.
       Among the best stories are those in which the first-person narrator isn't overwhelmed by his attachment. In Pieces his girlfriend gets kidnapped, and he wonders why the ransom demands don't go down after the kidnappers start sending pieces of her to him to prove they're serious: "They seem to think I'd pay as much for a girlfriend with no thumbs, ears, nose or nipples as I would for one with all her bits still there." In Faithful his beloved dies and he vows "to remain faithful to her memory", sounding wonderfully sincere but not quite able to withstand temptation when it (inappropriately) comes.
       There are a couple of decent ideas which don't fully pan out: There's the couple who want their love to be preserved forever and so, when a volcano erupts, stand there kissing, wanting to be "petrified by the ash" (they aren't successful).
       There are ideas that sound sort of promising but don't work at all: There's the couple who have not stopped kissing since the moment they met, for more than six years now -- a decent thought, but not convincingly portrayed.
       The girlfriends -- generally exceptionally beautiful (one causes havoc on the streets -- from car crashes to hundreds of "unwanted and embarrassing erections" -- every time she sets foot outside) -- are remarkable, and yet rarely compelling. Granted, it's hard to flesh out a character in a hundred words or less, but after meeting a few dozen vacuous pretty faces (many additionally burdened with ridiculous names) one longs for something more.

       Anthropology is an uneven collection. Readers' patience presumably will vary, but it's hard to think of more than a fifth of these as successful. Too often they are wildly but not well imagined. They are such small, quick reads that the many failures and disappointments can be overlooked, but it still makes for a mighty thin read.

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Links:

Anthropology: Reviews: Dan Rhodes: Other books by Dan Rhodes under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction
  • See Index of Oulipo and similarly playful books

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About the Author:

       British author Dan Rhodes was born in 1972.

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© 2004-2010 the complete review

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