Things We Didn't See Coming Summary and Reviews

Things We Didn't See Coming

by Steven Amsterdam

Things We Didn't See Coming by Steven Amsterdam
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2010
    208 pages
    Genre: Short Stories/Essays

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Book Summary

Richly imagined, dark, and darkly comic, the stories follow the narrator over three decades as he tries to survive in a world that is becoming increasingly savage as cataclysmic events unfold one after another. In the first story, “What We Know Now”—set in the eve of the millennium, when the world as we know it is still recognizable—we meet the then-nine-year-old narrator fleeing the city with his parents, just ahead of a Y2K breakdown. The remaining stories capture the strange—sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes funny—circumstances he encounters in the no-longer-simple act of survival; trying to protect squatters against floods in a place where the rain never stops, being harassed (and possibly infected) by a man sick with a virulent flu, enduring a job interview with an unstable assessor who has access to all his thoughts, taking the gravely ill on adventure tours. But we see in each story that, despite the violence and brutality of his days, the narrator retains a hold on his essential humanity—and humor.

Things We Didn’t See Coming is haunting, restrained, and beautifully crafted—a stunning debut.

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BookBrowse Review
"In some ways, I found Things We Didn't See Coming quite relevant for our current political and ecological situation, as it traces a man's life from the beginning of the 21st century, when he is an adolescent, to the mid-point of the century, when he is middle-aged and has endured the many privations caused by climate change and government collapse. With the popularity of books like Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood, this collection definitely could achieve some niche success among readers of dystopian literature.

At the same time, portions of the book are clunky and have the over-worked quality of writing workshop material - awkwardly paced and too pat in places. The last two stories, where the author has a better grasp of tone and characterization, are better, but I still wouldn't go out of my way to recommend the collection, since the individual parts undermine the whole." - Marnie Colton, BookBrowse

Other Reviews
"Though a couple of the later stories lack polish and punch, Amsterdam's varied catastrophes are vividly executed, while his resilient narrator's travails are harrowing." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. The author, a native New Yorker transplanted to Australia, enters the literary world with a full-blown talent that can't be stopped." - Library Journal

"By turns horrific and beautiful ... Humanity at its most fractured and desolate ..... Often moving, frequently surprising, even blackly funny ... Things We Didn’t See Coming is terrific." - The Age (Australia)

"Above all, Amsterdam creates real worlds and real people. None of the characters or scenarios seem too far-fetched, nor do they lack human emotion. Towards the end of the book, the protagonist’s final decision about his identity seems true and real. If this is what Amsterdam hopes the end of the world to be, I can’t wait." - The Enthusiast (Australia)

"The forefathers to Amsterdam’s novel are the rarefied likes of Cormac Mccarthy’s The Road. Dire as many of the developments are in Things We Didn’t See Coming, the restrained beauty of the storytelling provides an uplifting balance to the content." - The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

"Amsterdam's vision is sunnier than the one McCarthy presents in The Road and many readers will find his style more accessible. His prose and storytelling is minimalist without crossing into the territory of a Raymond Carver or Richard Ford, and each of his stories benefits from being so carefully crafted, the reader feels few words, images or characters could have been pared back more." - The Australian

"This collection is a sobering entertainment, deepened by passages of what seem like an alarmingly prescient wisdom.... " - The Australian Literary Review

The information about Things We Didn't See Coming shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

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Steven Amsterdam, is a native New Yorker who moved to Melbourne, Australia, in 2003. He currently works as a psychiatric nurse.

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