banner ad
banner ad
banner ad

BOOK REVIEW: McSweeney’s Issue 50 Edited by Dave Eggers

| 23 January 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: McSweeney’s Issue 50 Edited by Dave Eggers

McSweeney’s Publishing
August 2017
Hardcover, $44.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Literature, Poetry & Plays > Non-Fiction Prose / Literary Essays


The McSweeney’s literary journal should come with a disclaimer like: “Expect the unexpected.” This quirky, quarterly journal is celebrating a milestone with its 50th edition. For the past 20 years this volume – which was founded by American author Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) – has published new and edgy writers alongside established authors. The result is a mixed bag where essays, articles, comic strips and artworks are offered alongside each other, and many often resonate with different readers. The underlying thread is a dynamic and fresh approach to different ideas and how you render them.

Dear McSweeney’s,
I am writing to inquire about a job for my adoptive father, Mohammed, who is an unusual man and a remarkable polyglot. Formative years in Mumbai imparted him with fluency in Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Tamil, and English. As a Muslim with siblings across the Middle East, he picked up Arabic and Farsi, though it certainly wasn’t faith or family that informed his postgraduate stint as a blackjack dealer and bartender in Paris, where he added French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German to his collection of tongues. It’s all quite impressive and worldly—until you realise his aptitude for language has made him an insufferable Scrabble opponent…
As an outlet that traffics in the kind of tales my father appreciates to the point of his own detriment, I believe you’d find him of much use. He would make for an excellent reader or an even better resident sandwich artist. You won’t have to worry about salary, either; he’ll happily agree to be paid in conversation. Trust me.
Whatever you do, don’t play him in Scrabble.
Assalamualaikum, chaleureusement, mit freundliche grüße, and many thanks,
Zain Khalid

The editors of this journal like to play around with its presentation and aesthetic. One edition was housed in a box that had a large head printed on the front. Another featured a bunch of paper brochures that were tied together. For issue number 50, it is a nicely-bound hardcover book that would make for a lovely gift or keepsake. It also comes with a large paper poster that can be changed and folded into one of two different book covers. The one mainstay of this journal is the letters section and this edition even features one from American stand-up comedian, Patton Oswalt.

There is no specific theme for the latest McSweeney’s. The only rule here – apart from there perhaps being no rules – is that 50 contributors have been selected and published. This has often resulted in shorter articles overall, so some of these may lack sufficient detail and leave the reader wanting more from the story. The cleverest use of the shortened format is by Keaton Patti who offers six-word sequels to Ernest Hemingway’s “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn” and a selection of these are included below:

Sold shoes, we must move on.
Doctor lied: the baby is fine.
Healthy baby born, has cold feet.
Wish we hadn’t sold those shoes.
Wanted: lawyer good at suing doctors.
Scandal: doctor not really a doctor.
Wanted: lawyer great at suing liars.
Called police, “doctor” arrested, shoes ours.
Cops say classic scam, happens daily.
Head home, bring baby the shoes.
After that, they don’t fit.
F**k. F**k. F**k. F**k. F**k. F**k.
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

The same cannot be said about contributor Lydia Davis. She pens some very brief and under-realised pieces of prose. You get the sense that she is just scratching the surface with her vague text like in the following piece called, “Opportunistic Seed”:

She holds the door for him as he carries a case of wine into the house.
A seed floating on its bit of fluff takes the opportunity to enter the house behind him
(though this will not turn out to be, for the seed, a good move).

Sherman Alexie creates quite a vivid article that seems very tongue-in-cheek in “Deliver Me.” The off-beat tone in this piece is in keeping with what is expected from McSweeney’s by its readers. The following is all about a schlub, pizza delivery guy and a fleeting romance.

I shoved the pizzas into the warming sleeve sitting on my car’s passenger seat and dug through my glove compartment for something to mask my body odor, finding only a half-filled tin of mints. So I crushed the mints with my thumbnail, poured a little bit of water into the tin, shook it hard for a minute, and created a minty-smelling paste that I rubbed into my armpits and onto my lower back. And then I sucked the minty residue off my fingers so my breath wouldn’t smell so much of bacon and spinach. Some cleansing ritual, huh? Who says we haven’t stopped being cave men?
…I instantly regretted offering them a ride. I regretted pulling over in the first place. I regretted my sad attempt to use crushed Altoids as deodorant because I smelled like somebody had taken a shit in a cup of mint tea. I regretted that I didn’t make lists. I regretted that I never paused long enough to seriously consider my decisions. I regretted that I didn’t know how to ponder. And then I realized that I ponder all the time. I just don’t know how to ponder well.

Contributor, Dan Kennedy seems to take a leaf out of McSweeney’s website, The Onion, and The Chaser’s books with his essays. They are three funny and satirical takes on life around the office as typically exhibited in the passive-aggressive signs people put up requesting their colleagues keep the place tidy. Kennedy’s contributions are even typeset with an edge that is designed to be cut out and possibly used. These are sure to raise some eyebrows and brighten up another boring day at work, like the following one about cleaning the office fridge:

Look, I’m not going to lay some cutesy guilt trip on you about how we’re not here to clean up after you and all of that mumbo jumbo. Fact is, if you want to leave stuff lying around in here and not clean up after yourself, then that’s what you’re gonna do…
Feel that on a macro level, not just the level of unmade beds and dirty dishes. Hey, do what you want, clean up after yourself or don’t nobody can control you but you. But I swear to god, in this life you’re either moving closer to cheating at solitaire or further from it. This isn’t between you and me, or you and us, or us and them: it’s between you and you. Also I see that good intention in you and I think you get what this sign is saying. You’re one of the good ones, I bet.

Some of the contributors are almost a little too cool for school with respect to their writing-style. Valeria Luiselli’s “Endnotes to Honoré De Blazac’s “The Unknown Masterpiece” is very long and too highfalutin for its own benefit, so it could very well alienate some readers. While it is commendable that she is attempting to do something that’s a little experimental and unexpected, the following story about the waiting game we’ve often participated in while stuck in a virtual queue on the phone to call centres proves to be a much stronger essay. It is an intelligent look at some patience, navel-gazing, and nostalgia by Steven Millhauser.

Thank you for calling customer service. Our agents are urgently assisting other customers. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order in which it was received. Pause. Thank you for your patience. Please stay on the line and a representative will be with your shortly. Pause…You don’t have to keep saying the same thing over and over again. I’m not an idiot. Pause. Thank you for calling…
Just pick up the phone. I’ve got better things to do than stand around all day waiting for you to pick up. Yoo-hoo! I’m right here! Stuck in the kitchen. Dropped my daughter at pre-school 10 minutes ago. It’s my free time. Sun’s out. You need my account number? It’s here in front of me. Just pick up. Pick up. We’re sorry to keep you waiting. Please do not hang up and redial, as this will only further delay your call…
The Spring Dance. Who knows what I was waiting for, the night of the Spring Dance? It wasn’t what you’re thinking. Oh, maybe off to one side of my mind. But in the center  was waiting for something to happen in my life, something that would push me away from what I was…The sort of push you’d want if you were unhappy, but here’s the thing: I wasn’t unhappy. Can you want something, even if you’re happy? How does that make sense? At the dance we danced close, but not closer. When we sat, we talked. I was having a good time. But I was also waiting for something. Waiting for what? Maybe for the night to show me what it was. The dance ended at midnight. He asked me if I’d like to—Thank you for calling. Please be assured that your call will be answered as soon as possible.

Another curious addition to this book is an alleged translation of a found letter supposed penned by a Bosnian immigrant to the United States. While the author Ismet Prcic gets the tone and the voice of the character spot-on, the piece is a difficult one to read (because the protagonist apparently knows very little English). This may have been included because a former edition of McSweeney’s focused on Croatian writing and so this could be an extension of supporting authors from a similar region. This text however, is at odds with the others published here because the rest of the pieces are actually very well-written.

Too, receive my sorry of King’s Tarzan English (Tarzan, King of monkeys, joke) but I find only two dictionaries to look: The Dictionary of Clichés and Straight from the Fridge, Dad: A Dictionary of Hipster Slang, this two books.
I use words from this two books that make sense to me and hoping that you will hear in your brain what I think in my brain.
It will not be all roses, like you say in America, but keep your shirt on like you say too…
People in America think, a man from Balkan half-island, no English, he beat his beloved, and slaughter chicken in bathroom wash space, and yell and drink alcohol and don’t shaves neck, I know.
Line of black where hair on chest stop and hair on neck is shaved and golden bling on here to pull on hair, ouch.
I, thank you, shave neck and have no blings.
Now that I left my beloved and have to grasp the nettle with bare hands, in America you say that.
Grasp the nettle when you’re on last legs.
We say: I sex hedgehog in the back.
But no, I’m good now, on first legs.
I have not seen hedgehog yet in Portland but I catch pigeon and squirrel, to eat not sex (Gluho bilo).

McSweeney’s Issue 50 offers readers the opportunity to explore and seek out the company of some fresh writers and artists who are creative individuals that march to the beats of their own drums. The result is 50 essays and art pieces that cover a wide range of different things, from highfalutin academic-style essays through to cheeky satire and stories that bite and beguile in equal measure. McSweeney’s is ultimately at its most comfortable when it’s playing with conventions and mindsets, making this volume an eclectic cornucopia of writing and art.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

Leave a Reply

Please verify you\'re a real person: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

banner ad
banner ad