Ben Loory is a screenwriter who’s done project work for Jodie Foster and Alex Proyas, so it seems appropriate that his debut short-story collection, Stories For Nighttime And Some For The Day, brings the thrifty, breezy storytelling of the screen to prose fiction. Clocking in at 40 stories in 200 pages, this single-serving approach reads like Grimm’s Fairy Tales filtered through George Saunders with a short attention span. It’s immensely entertaining, full of funny, thoughtful modern fables and fairy tales designed to be unsuitable for bedtime stories, and sprinkled with just enough darker ones to provide a balanced edge.
“UFO: A Love Story,” “The Duck,” and the rest of the best positive stories—presumably for the day—have an infectious sweetness that overpowers the age of the building blocks, while the darkness of “The Sea Monster” or “The Man Who Went To China” are appropriately spooky, seemingly told with a flashlight glowing under the author’s chin. Loory is wise enough to only hint at the connections between the stories and the real-life morals a lesser writer would spell out with large gestures, and the messages’ subtlety is aided by the oddball stories that don’t quite fit in the first two categories.
A skydiver befriends a talking moose in “The Moose,” while a house on the edge of the sea talks to the crashing waves below in “The House On The Cliff And The Sea,” and two young octopi from the ocean visit their uncle who lives in a city on land in “The Octopus.” Those are just a few in an endless list of surrealist premises that don’t waste time with development, relying instead on the foundational strength of story structure.
Loory writes stories that resemble a Fabergé egg: beautifully adorned and constructed, but mostly decorative. The stories rarely express complex themes, instead hitting broad notes such as “be yourself,” or “strong family ties are important,” but that increases their appeal. The stories are so delightfully bizarre that they resonate. He isn’t breaking new ground, he’s condensing archetypes down to their bare essentials, then twisting them. Not for the sake of making them dark, but stretching realistic moral fables into mystical fantasy, with Martians, overprotective parents, and landlocked octopi as charming and relatable characters.