Three Important Words In Any Language
I bought this book first, but the very first Charles Yu work I've read was my next purchase which was How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe. I could never begin to tell you just how madly in love I was with it from start to finish. You can read my review about it in case you're curious. Now, if I sit still for a moment and think about it again for a whole minute, I might get lost inside my own head and never recover. The only reason I bought this other book was because of one of the quoted reviews in the back page cited that if I'm a fan of the cult NBC show Community, then this one is definitely my cup of tea. And I can agree with that person...to some extent. The truth is, if it wasn't for that reference to my all-time favorite sitcom, I never would have even bothered looking for Yu's novel in the first place. Also, if I happened to read this first before How To Live, I'm afraid I might just put this author aside which would be a damn shame because How To Live was one of the most amazing literary experiences I have ever had which touched the geekiest parts of my soul.
That being said, this collection entitled Sorry Please and Thank You wasn't like How To Live in a Science Fictional Universe. For one thing, it's an anthology of twelve stories, and a few of them are so convoluted and ridiculous but they still manage to be delightfully imaginative. His conceptual work of the plots (or a lack of any plot at all) can be gratingly incomprehensible one moment, and terribly poignant and heartbreaking the next. What was common between the two books had to be the overall style and delivery. There is no doubt that they are definitely penned by the same writer whose sense of humor and wit are mystifyingly outstanding and unique. At their best, these same qualities could make up for the flaws in his storytelling for some of the pieces.
Writing-wise, Charles Yu has the kind of voice that speaks a language you and I may not understand at first until we listen to it without distractions as we try to analyze how he communicates or attempts it with us--and why sometimes he often fails. Only then can readers unravel the secret pain and wish fulfillment in his written words that are so wrapped up in his ramblings about how a few people in this world ever really learned to talk and respond to him in the same manner. But those that do speak his language and are willing to form a dialogue with him will find a ready friend and confidant in Yu's comfortable and unassuming lead characters. They are often just him role-playing through a piece, much like a lonely child creates magic and mystery as he plays by himself while adults look on, both amused and worried of the stories he comes up with.
Only three stories truly stood out for me as magnificent pieces in this collection; the rest are products of the deranged, quirky and absurd writings of a most puzzling man who indulges in his whimsical passages with disregard for harmony and structure. Yu is far too fanciful with the other stories that it's hard for me to take them seriously, let alone have some sustained interest in them. However, as critical as I am about his overall lack of literary restraint, and slightly appalled by his chaotic compositions for Sorry Please and Thank You, I will attest that he has quite the huge talent and potential to become, well, even crazier and uninhibited in his storytelling. His prose is never stilted, never dishonest or bland. Charles Yu will tell you a story and you will hate him for how he tells it but he will make you feel something as if you have never lived until you heard/read what he has to say. And so, ultimately, what he offers in this anthology may be so disparaging and irregular, so imperfect and so laughably disturbing and fucking preposterous but you are guaranteed to become a duly impressed, captivated audience. I have never read a writer who had laid bare his soul and all its contents--the broken trinkets and the precious suffering--and still remain so genuinely innocent and clueless about the darkness and void he had treaded without heed or caution; and all because his imagination has no strings or a cage big enough to enclose it.
This may not have the powerful resonance of How To Live in a Science Fictional Universe but Sorry Please Thank You is just as exceptional; it has never been tedious or dull and there are interesting details to each story that can be quite enjoyable to re-read again. As for the three stories I truly loved in this anthology, they are Standard Loneliness Package, Hero Receives Major Damage and Open. These stories were deconstructions about humanity's awkward relationship with death, destiny and identity respectively, and Yu did not hesitate to tug that seam repeatedly to show us what could be lurking underneath our insecurities about them until the entire thing frayed. I also liked Inventory, Note to Self and Designer Emotion because the style and approach to said pieces managed to be inventive and hilarious all at once. Others like Troubleshooting and The Book of Categories are laborious to write since they parody the content of technical manuals with a humorous twist, and no other writer but Charles Yu could pull it off. I simply believe the man is absolutely bat-shit insane and I think that's why I enjoy reading his stories so much even when they confound me to no end!