Who's Who in the Secret Society

Columbus Alive | July 8, 2005
Random House is juggling competing marketing gimmicks for The Secret Society of Demolition Writers. The new short story compilation boasts both star power and anonymity, a dozen well-known names on the jacket but no credits on the individual pieces. Editor Marc Parent explains in the introduction that the idea came from watching a demolition derby. With no rules and no identity, he felt, the assembled writers would be forced to give up stylistic crutches and explore more daring territory.

But the identities behind these stories, including Lovely Bones’ Alice Sebold, The Perfect Storm’s Sebastian Junger, Newsweek contributor Anna Quindlen and Rosie O’Donnell are too lucrative to keep a complete secret. The results don’t reach new extremes in either narrative form or content, but there’s an icy streak through the tales and their often deeply screwed-up characters that’s refreshing in a summer read.

One writer spends about 15 pages inside the head of a schizophrenic homeless man. Another chronicles a near-death experience in a West African war zone. And in the most engrossing piece, a fashion magazine editor, heartless by her own admission, recalls the unexpected consequences of a brief college affair with a dorm janitor. It’s a solid collection in general; the ready-made game of who’s who with the who’s who of contributors is just a bonus for book geeks.

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