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At last a new book: a baker’s dozen of stories all with Helen DeWitt’s razor-sharp genius For sheer unpredictable brilliance, Gogol may come to mind, but no author alive today takes a reader as far as Helen DeWitt into the funniest, most yonder dimensions of possibility. Her jumping-off points might be statistics, romance, the art world’s piranha tank, games of chance and g At last a new book: a baker’s dozen of stories all with Helen DeWitt’s razor-sharp genius For sheer unpredictable brilliance, Gogol may come to mind, but no author alive today takes a reader as far as Helen DeWitt into the funniest, most yonder dimensions of possibility. Her jumping-off points might be statistics, romance, the art world’s piranha tank, games of chance and games of skill, the travails of publishing, or success. “Look,” a character begins to explain, laying out some gambit reasonably enough, even if facing a world of boomeranging counterfactuals, situations spinning out to their utmost logical extremes, and Rube Goldberg-like moving parts, where things prove “more complicated than they had first appeared” and “at 3 a.m. the circumstances seem to attenuate.” In various ways, each tale carries DeWitt’s signature poker-face lament regarding the near-impossibility of the life of the mind when one is made to pay to have the time for it, in a world so sadly “taken up with all sorts of paraphernalia superfluous, not to say impedimental, to ratiocination.”


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At last a new book: a baker’s dozen of stories all with Helen DeWitt’s razor-sharp genius For sheer unpredictable brilliance, Gogol may come to mind, but no author alive today takes a reader as far as Helen DeWitt into the funniest, most yonder dimensions of possibility. Her jumping-off points might be statistics, romance, the art world’s piranha tank, games of chance and g At last a new book: a baker’s dozen of stories all with Helen DeWitt’s razor-sharp genius For sheer unpredictable brilliance, Gogol may come to mind, but no author alive today takes a reader as far as Helen DeWitt into the funniest, most yonder dimensions of possibility. Her jumping-off points might be statistics, romance, the art world’s piranha tank, games of chance and games of skill, the travails of publishing, or success. “Look,” a character begins to explain, laying out some gambit reasonably enough, even if facing a world of boomeranging counterfactuals, situations spinning out to their utmost logical extremes, and Rube Goldberg-like moving parts, where things prove “more complicated than they had first appeared” and “at 3 a.m. the circumstances seem to attenuate.” In various ways, each tale carries DeWitt’s signature poker-face lament regarding the near-impossibility of the life of the mind when one is made to pay to have the time for it, in a world so sadly “taken up with all sorts of paraphernalia superfluous, not to say impedimental, to ratiocination.”

30 review for Some Trick: Thirteen Stories

  1. 5 out of 5

    Hadrian

    Wild grab-bag of short stories. Some are meandering pieces that felt incomplete (by design?), others are more linguistic or mathematical investigations as seen in The Last Samurai. A recurring theme is of the intellectual or the artist within a hostile/predatory society - an art collector on an artist, male student against female student, a writer against an agent.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ian Scuffling

    What happened? Were my expectations too high? Was I wanting this book to be something other than it was ever going to be? Whatever is going on, I felt like Helen DeWitt’s Some Trick: Thirteen Stories was a series of unfinished riffs on topics and themes rather than any kind of coherent collection of stories. The design may have been to have the book (and its stories) stand in as blank integers where the reader has to solve for X. But, even there, I’m not sure DeWitt’s project works because there What happened? Were my expectations too high? Was I wanting this book to be something other than it was ever going to be? Whatever is going on, I felt like Helen DeWitt’s Some Trick: Thirteen Stories was a series of unfinished riffs on topics and themes rather than any kind of coherent collection of stories. The design may have been to have the book (and its stories) stand in as blank integers where the reader has to solve for X. But, even there, I’m not sure DeWitt’s project works because there’s not enough “there” there to adequately do the math, so to speak. This is alluded to in the “Publisher’s Note” in the back of the book, which clarifies a few things that seem like they could have been style inconsistencies, and highlights one story which uses X and x in a way that seems to suggest the same person. The note expands with an excerpt from an unpublished novella by DeWitt from which the story in question was carved and explains these are integers (two different ones) which the reader can fill in on her/his own because anyone could stand in those holes. A few stories have their moments, and perhaps the best of these is “On the Town” which transplants a starry-eyed Iowan into a riveting Manhattan where he quickly is able to put practical skills to use, much to the bewilderment (and happiness) of New Yorkers who were more than content to let the water leak continue in their apartment. However, the story falls apart as quickly as it gets up on its legs, and just noodles for a little while before ending. Many of these stories do this; they have promising beginnings but seem then to get lost. I can’t help but wonder if most of these weren’t longer pieces originally that were chopped down into stories. I can’t help wonder, too, if DeWitt’s bad luck in the publishing industry didn’t inform a lot of this content so focused on the matter of misguided and stupid contracts that constrain and ruin and inhibit the production of great art (writing or music or otherwise). Another theme seems to be about the impracticality of the impossibly reasoned mind—logical reasoning is a guiding motif in the lives of the characters in these stories, which often spins out to extreme conclusions, such as in “Entourage” where a man has an entire entourage of translators spanning virtually every language on earth so that the protagonist can experience the great writers in their true original form. I’m happy that New Directions is dedicated to DeWitt. She deserves to be published. Even where these stories fail, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to read them and I’ll wait eagerly for whatever she puts out next—I just know she’ll re-capture the lightning that formed The Last Samurai again.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    Really just not very good. Perhaps it's unfair to have read it between Orlovitz's poems and Divine Days. Even so :: 1) ND did the right thing. 2) I'm going to buy DeWitt a coffee :: https://ko-fi.com/dewitt 3) I did the poli=correct thing and bought her Lightning Rods new at full=$$$ from The Independent Village Bookshop.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    From the outside, Helen DeWitt's stories always sound like the kind of conceptual art piece that have an interesting premise, but depend on flawless execution to actually live up to the promise. Fortunately, on the inside, her stories are flawlessly executed, filled with life, humor, character, and neatly rendered frequency plots. These stories may or may not be interconnected (but are related), featuring a group of people who may or may not know each other (but certainly know of each other), bu From the outside, Helen DeWitt's stories always sound like the kind of conceptual art piece that have an interesting premise, but depend on flawless execution to actually live up to the promise. Fortunately, on the inside, her stories are flawlessly executed, filled with life, humor, character, and neatly rendered frequency plots. These stories may or may not be interconnected (but are related), featuring a group of people who may or may not know each other (but certainly know of each other), but each and all are wonderfully made.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    [Thoughts from a little more than halfway through: ] It's hard to explain what I love about Helen DeWitt's writing. It's partly her cast of mind: the best way I can put it is that she has the brain of a nerd and the soul of an artist. And while she's always taking the piss out of someone or something, she doesn't come across as smug, and there's an intense (even desperate) seriousness underlying even her relatively flippant passages. Her attitude toward the world (and many of the people in it) ra [Thoughts from a little more than halfway through: ] It's hard to explain what I love about Helen DeWitt's writing. It's partly her cast of mind: the best way I can put it is that she has the brain of a nerd and the soul of an artist. And while she's always taking the piss out of someone or something, she doesn't come across as smug, and there's an intense (even desperate) seriousness underlying even her relatively flippant passages. Her attitude toward the world (and many of the people in it) ranges from fury to contempt to despair, but not only does she see the funny side, she communicates a powerful sense of the richness of the life of the mind. I don't know how much of this is actually apparent in these stories; I'm definitely reading them against the backdrop of The Last Samurai. Some Trick is not a patch on The Last Samurai, and so far there's no single story in it that I'd enthusiastically recommend. The endings are mostly underwhelming (or, in the case of Improvisation Is the Heart of Music, baffling) -- it's not that I need a payoff or a twist, but I think there's an art to writing a quiet ending without leaving the reader feeling like they're missing something. Still, the stories are enjoyable and clever and sometimes funny, and there's enough of DeWitt's distinctive sensibility in this book that I'm very glad to be reading it. [update on finishing: ] A mixed bag in both senses -- with the exception of a few groups of two or three that overlap quite heavily, the subject matter and tone vary considerably; but so does the quality, or at least I feel that way after reading the final story, Entourage, which did not work for me at all. There's still no single story I wholeheartedly recommend, but I'm very glad I read this and I hope DeWitt keeps writing and publishing. To anyone who wants to begin by sampling a story or two, I'd probably suggest Brutto (a satire on the art world with something a little darker running just beneath the surface), Famous Last Words (a quiet meditation on intellectual/physical relationships), and perhaps On the Town (a fun riff on the absurdity of the entrepreneurial, jack-of-all-trades, self-made modern American success story).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elise

    Frenetic and incoherent. I'm glad to support the author of The Last Samurai and New Directions, but all except two of these stories were a huge waste of time.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chris Via

    Review forthcoming in Rain Taxi Review of Books.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alison Hardtmann

    Some Trick: Thirteen Stories by Helen DeWitt is a collection of short stories all focusing on people who are very intelligent in one way or another. They struggle with money, compulsions or simply with everyday life. The academics value quick, erudite conversations, peppered with untranslated French, German and Latin. Each story, taken alone, comes across as clever and unusual, taken as a whole, the stories become variations on the same thing. The first story, Brutto, is about a young struggling Some Trick: Thirteen Stories by Helen DeWitt is a collection of short stories all focusing on people who are very intelligent in one way or another. They struggle with money, compulsions or simply with everyday life. The academics value quick, erudite conversations, peppered with untranslated French, German and Latin. Each story, taken alone, comes across as clever and unusual, taken as a whole, the stories become variations on the same thing. The first story, Brutto, is about a young struggling artist who comes to the attention of a prominent art dealer and then sees her vision over-whelmed by his, and she's faced with the decision of whether to stick to her ideas, and perhaps have to give up art entirely to support herself, or allow her art to be changed into something unrecognizable. And in Famous Last Words, a young woman makes the following observation: There is a text which I could insert at this point which begins, 'I'm not in the mood,' but the reader who has had occasion to consult it will know that, though open to many variations, there is one form which is, as Voltaire would say, potius optandum quam probandum, and that is the one which runs 'I'm not in the mood,' 'Oh, OK.' My own experience has shown this to be a text particularly susceptible to discursive and recursive operations, one which circles back on itself through several iterations and recapitulations, one which ends pretty invariably in 'Oh, OK,' but only about half the time as the contribution of my co-scripteur. I think for a moment about giving the thing a whirl, but finally settle on the curtailed version which leaves out, 'I'm not in the mood' and goes directly to 'Oh, OK.' X and I go upstairs.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Good short stories for academics, writers, and amateur intellectuals. Their wit is a bit too high-falutin’ for me, though. Perhaps if I had much leisure time to spend sipping aromatic tea in an oak paneled manor library in rural England, amid classic paintings and highly manicured lawns, I would find them quietly amusing. But for reading on the Tokyo subway, they just don’t have sufficient satiric lift.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    SOME TRICK. (2018). Helen DeWitt. **. This book is heralded on the cover as being “Thirteen Stories.” I wasn’t able to find any stories in this collection. I did manage to find thirteen potential nuclei for subsequent stories which were never developed. The author likes to play with words, but neglects her role as a story-teller. Each snippet of what was supposed to be a story loses itself in its own ‘profundity’. It seems as if the author is more concerned with showing the reader how smart she i SOME TRICK. (2018). Helen DeWitt. **. This book is heralded on the cover as being “Thirteen Stories.” I wasn’t able to find any stories in this collection. I did manage to find thirteen potential nuclei for subsequent stories which were never developed. The author likes to play with words, but neglects her role as a story-teller. Each snippet of what was supposed to be a story loses itself in its own ‘profundity’. It seems as if the author is more concerned with showing the reader how smart she is that in delivering the goods. I was not impressed. The author has previously made her mark with an earlier novel, “The Last Samurai,” and was attempting to branch out into another genre with this one. I haven’t read the previous novel, but would certainly shun any additional ‘short story’ executions. The use of the word executions is aptly used.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn Crupi

    DeWitt is a ‘read anything and everything she writes’ author for me and even at her worst she’s better than most. Her worst is pretty darn good actually. But that said this was a mixed read for me. I loved DeWitt’s obsession with statistical modelling in fiction but found some stories hard work and others just baffling. The stories are related without being interconnected and I just wish this packed more punch.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    One loud LOL at this line: "the rationalist is socialised to mug for the camera, trotting out recondite facts, objecting to logical fallacies, using polysyllabic words in sentences with a high number of dependent clauses, with the quizzical air of one who knows he is amusing the interlocutor by conforming to a fondly held stereotype." Loved the first half of "On the Town" with Gil from Iowa in NYC excited to see famous European art movies, living with the bitter, alcoholic son of a famous YA nov One loud LOL at this line: "the rationalist is socialised to mug for the camera, trotting out recondite facts, objecting to logical fallacies, using polysyllabic words in sentences with a high number of dependent clauses, with the quizzical air of one who knows he is amusing the interlocutor by conforming to a fondly held stereotype." Loved the first half of "On the Town" with Gil from Iowa in NYC excited to see famous European art movies, living with the bitter, alcoholic son of a famous YA novelist -- the juxtaposition held such promise, could've been a hilarious satirical New York novel, but it seemed like it lost its way, the way pretty much all of these stories seemed to lose their way for me, or not even engage enough at first to establish a way to lose. Sometimes felt like she'd condensed some of her famously unpublished novels into stories. I love her two published novels . . . would like to see a memoir or a collection of essays from her.

  13. 5 out of 5

    David

    Helen Dewitt is incredibly good. So, just read the dang book. I will admit that 2 or 3 of the middle stories did considerably less for me than the rest, but even those fit conceptually in this whole. (It's not *just* a short story collection. There's definitely some overarching themes and motifs here.) Clever, funny, and carrying out, here, some of the task she set for herself in a great blog post. Speaking as a mathematician, she does a good job of capturing certain aspects of the mathematically Helen Dewitt is incredibly good. So, just read the dang book. I will admit that 2 or 3 of the middle stories did considerably less for me than the rest, but even those fit conceptually in this whole. (It's not *just* a short story collection. There's definitely some overarching themes and motifs here.) Clever, funny, and carrying out, here, some of the task she set for herself in a great blog post. Speaking as a mathematician, she does a good job of capturing certain aspects of the mathematically-inclined (or obsessed) person. And of course, if you're frustrated by the state of our currently organized reality and especially sensitive to how dismally the current system supports and encourages artists? Read this. Read this. Read this.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrii Zakharov

    A spontaneous purchase, this book kept surprising. The second story has R code in it and mentions Andrew Gelman (turns out the author has a blog where she writes quite a lot about statistics). Later in the book the marshmallow test comes up, Gerd Gigerenzer "of the Max-Planck-Institute" gets mentioned. As do Texas Hold'em, drums, Berlin... What an overlap. Some trick! The stories themselves are quite diverse, loosely connected by a theme of extraordinary - art, perception, capacity. Some passages A spontaneous purchase, this book kept surprising. The second story has R code in it and mentions Andrew Gelman (turns out the author has a blog where she writes quite a lot about statistics). Later in the book the marshmallow test comes up, Gerd Gigerenzer "of the Max-Planck-Institute" gets mentioned. As do Texas Hold'em, drums, Berlin... What an overlap. Some trick! The stories themselves are quite diverse, loosely connected by a theme of extraordinary - art, perception, capacity. Some passages are VERY funny. All are invariably Very Highly Intellectual. Somehow the book managed to not get on my nerves though, sensitive as I am to such displays. I enjoyed most stories, except the ones that went completely over my head with language and references. A bit too much French, Latin, and name-dropping in those. But the style is captivating throughout.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Philipp

    Unsure what to make of it, I definitely liked it, but it's hard to find out what I liked - many of these stories' themes are extensions already touched on in the extremely brilliant The Last Samurai: a love of knowledge for knowledge's sake. What's added here is a wonderful celebration of Kauzigkeit (I prefer the rarer/non-existent(?) Kauztum), a good German word. It comes from the old word for owl (Kauz), and is a kind word used to describe someone who has devoted their life to something 99.99% Unsure what to make of it, I definitely liked it, but it's hard to find out what I liked - many of these stories' themes are extensions already touched on in the extremely brilliant The Last Samurai: a love of knowledge for knowledge's sake. What's added here is a wonderful celebration of Kauzigkeit (I prefer the rarer/non-existent(?) Kauztum), a good German word. It comes from the old word for owl (Kauz), and is a kind word used to describe someone who has devoted their life to something 99.99% of people see no meaning in. A Kauz is the weird old professor every uni has and no student knows what they're even doing (prime example: John Kidd.) Some of DeWitt's characters are such Käuze, they love knowledge and not much else. However that makes some of these stories feel unfinished. You can't do much 'traditional' story with such characters, they can't develop much. They appear in love with knowledge, say their bit, and disappear with their love. Sometimes that love can feel snooty, but often, when it gets too snooty a touch of irony breaks it: ‘The thing that interests me,’ I say. ‘One of the things that interest me is the way there is this emphasis on inserting the body of the writer into the scene, as if making a connection between this physical presence and the derniers mots will somehow make these specially valid. Look at Noyes.’ I pick up the book. ‘“We must obviously not picture him here with the ‘eternal grin’ of Mr Lytton Strachey, but with the blood-stained rag at his lips, and eyes that had been looking into the face of Death. Those eyes are turned for a moment, with the curious wonder which is a sick man’s only way of reproach, upon a secretary who is trying to defeat a purpose definitely decided upon before this illness occurred.” ‘The blood-stained rag,’ I say, ‘says this is real and true. The document is genuine. Its statements may be attached to Voltaire.’ X is flipping through Pomeau. This also must be the first book I read that featured R-code. Several 'greats' of the R programming language are mentioned by name (Hadley Wickham etc), there's actual R-code with a few plots, some characters fight about white-space vs. tab (of the many boring fights 'nerds' have, this is one of the most boring), data pervades some, but not all of these stories. Favourite story: Entourage, about a rich man (Kauz again!) who travels with suitcases full of books, each book carried by someone who spoke the language the books in their suitcase were written in. Just look at those two quotes: It was now unexpectedly necessary to purchase a small suitcase and fill it with books replete with the letters z, w, y, j and k. It was necessary to hire someone to fly with him to Berlin to accompany the suitcase. Słowosław was the applicant whose name had the best letters. (He had been entranced to discover that the Russian for Protopope was Протопоп.) Aaaaah, nice. Still, The Last Samurai struck me deeper. But then again, at least two stories tell you how good Stanislaw Lem's Robotermärchen are, and that alone makes this a recommendation.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Emily Weatherburn

    Helen DeWitt's Some Trick is a curious book. Each story offers various comments on the publishing industry, DeWitt using the mode of the short story to convey frustrations derived from her own experiences. These frustrations consider the inconsistency of agents, who always seem to be abandoning their clients; the inability of writers to focus on their own work (because they are always being distracted); and the industry's unwavering fixation with money. I really enjoyed analysing these stories fr Helen DeWitt's Some Trick is a curious book. Each story offers various comments on the publishing industry, DeWitt using the mode of the short story to convey frustrations derived from her own experiences. These frustrations consider the inconsistency of agents, who always seem to be abandoning their clients; the inability of writers to focus on their own work (because they are always being distracted); and the industry's unwavering fixation with money. I really enjoyed analysing these stories from a critical perspective; there was a LOT of interesting content embedded in the narratives, but, at the same, I really struggled to read it. The stories themselves were confusing, abstract, and, to be blunt, really quite dull. I can see that they were being written for the sake of the critical content, but these many references and double meanings left the stories quite jumbled. I particularly struggled with the narrators; the stories jumped from one narrator to another quite indiscriminately and I often found myself struggling to keep up. I cannot deny that this book was extremely interesting. It provides some fascinating insights into both the publishing industry, and to DeWitt, herself. Nevertheless, I wouldn't recommend this book UNLESS you have these very specific interests. To put it bluntly, it's an academic read, and not one that I overly enjoyed. It's interesting, but not entertaining, and in the attempted balance between critical perspective and story, the story was definitely shunted into the background.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Eve

    There's no denying Helen DeWitt is brilliant - cleverness is in every story in this collection. Some of the passages are funny and eviscerating and illuminating all at once. I enjoyed reading this book very much. I liked taking it on walks and reading it on park benches, or in the subway, or in bed. It's one of those books you want to hold in your hands and flip the pages of, not have in ebook form. It's also not the type of book, I think, that should be rushed through, but rather savored in sma There's no denying Helen DeWitt is brilliant - cleverness is in every story in this collection. Some of the passages are funny and eviscerating and illuminating all at once. I enjoyed reading this book very much. I liked taking it on walks and reading it on park benches, or in the subway, or in bed. It's one of those books you want to hold in your hands and flip the pages of, not have in ebook form. It's also not the type of book, I think, that should be rushed through, but rather savored in small bursts. I know that some of these stories will stay with me and some will not, but while reading them, I was absorbed by each one. Some favorite quotes: What he did was he seized on a phrase. Somewhere online he had come across the phrase "protective of his work." It had struck him as the height of banality at the time, but for that very reason the kind of thing someone who "fell in love with a book" would probably take to. So he wrote an e-mail using the phrase "protective of my work" and promised to send the book when it was finished. **** 'Oh, you!' says X. X kisses me. 'Let's go upstairs,' says X. There is a text which I could insert at this point which begins 'I'm not in the mood,' but the reader who has had occasion to consult it will know that, though open to many variations, there is one form which is, as Voltaire would say, potius optandum quam probandum, and that is the one which runs 'I'm not in the mood,' 'Oh, OK." My own experience has shown this to be a text particularly susceptible to discursive and recursive operations, one which circles back on itself through several iterations and recapitulations, one which ends pretty invariably in 'Oh, OK,' but only about half the time at the contribution of my co-scripteur. I think for a moment about giving the thing a whirl, but finally settle on the curtailed version which leaves out 'I'm not in the mood' and goes directly to 'Oh, OK.' X and I go upstairs.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    UMLAUTS UP THE GAZOO Some excellent stories, tho nothing as good as the sexual codes of the europeans Most of the stories are in the recent HdW manner - content and style. Content: obsessional application of theoretical if not mathematical models to creative or artistic problems, and the absurdity of progressing from a reasonable point via reason to an eccentric point. Style: dry, laconic authorial control, generally indirect free speech, that is to say third person heavily laced with the express UMLAUTS UP THE GAZOO Some excellent stories, tho nothing as good as the sexual codes of the europeans Most of the stories are in the recent HdW manner - content and style. Content: obsessional application of theoretical if not mathematical models to creative or artistic problems, and the absurdity of progressing from a reasonable point via reason to an eccentric point. Style: dry, laconic authorial control, generally indirect free speech, that is to say third person heavily laced with the expressions and thinking and reasoning of her enthusiastic and excitable characters or doubtful pragmatic characters. Managing the filo thin layers of control, voice and irony (rationality, sympathy, humour, contempt, enthusiasm, tragedy) so that both the dexterity and a unity of HdW 'voice' is apparent is one of the main thrills of reading her, aside from the content (tho the unexpected juxtapositions and logic of that content is very much part of that layering. To expand on that, the mathematical, rational 'mode' which drives the direction of many stories, is absolutely a voice, a layer, a structure. There is a sprinkling of stories from her time at Oxford in 1985. These are different in style. Clearly more juvenile works, less tight in style, more juvenile in their expression of cleverness (of course another excitement of HdW is the cleverness). Their subject is often an intelligent female voice existing in a pragmatic, wry and doubtful space created by forceful or dullard men, or just men who aren't as clever as they think they are. These are less successful, I think, though Famous Last Words is very enjoyable. It does raise the question of why these are collected here in this way. It's not, as far as I can tell, a retrospective or collection as such. The collection has a good, elliptical poem as an epigraph. Next time someone tells you desire Is a trick of grammnar Tell him If what I have is what I said I wanted It's not what I wanted I know what I want But I don't know its name and later Some trick So using this, and the title, to try and draw things together a bit: It's a trick of stories in the card-playing sense there are thirteen, and i'm not sure whether there is an interrelation or symbolism relating to that at play – nothing jumped out at my, but I'm afraid to say some of my reading was a little inattentive (tipsy on tube or interrupted by things, and just generally i haven't felt as sharp recently as i'd like to be). I might need to look at that again. It's the trick of grammar, of letters, of foreign words and foreign mores creating and canalising desire: (Brutto about an Italian art dealer's enthusiasm for an incredibly ugly suit ('ma che brutto!') an artist made in her sempstress training. It's the trick of managing artistic control for the vision you want in a world that is trying through enthusiasm, fandom or lack of understanding to grasp hold of that indifferent to the things that make important to its creator. It's very much the calculus of money and creativity – something that affects Helen de Witt directly.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Carmen Petaccio

    1st story is excellent, as are the last three or so. read them then last samurai.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Regina

    Some Trick, indeed. This book left me confused and tired - so much unnecessary language for such little meat. The stories were could hardly be called as such - no plots, no discernible characters, no flow, no understanding. I honestly could not tell you what a single story was actually about, save for one, but even that one was spotty at best. It was grueling trying to get through the stories, and and in end, I gave up.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    I love how DeWitt compels me to follow up on all her casual references: people, books, languages, equations, theories...doing this provides a nice complement to the work and feels like I've gotten a little pat on the butt to be on my way out into the real world now. Of course, part of what helps us understand others is discovering what they're into. So we come to appreciate her characters in this way, but really what we're getting is a look at what informs DeWitt's art and thinking--this collecti I love how DeWitt compels me to follow up on all her casual references: people, books, languages, equations, theories...doing this provides a nice complement to the work and feels like I've gotten a little pat on the butt to be on my way out into the real world now. Of course, part of what helps us understand others is discovering what they're into. So we come to appreciate her characters in this way, but really what we're getting is a look at what informs DeWitt's art and thinking--this collection being more scattershot than the sustained focus of her novels, where she admirably commits to a long-term treatment, and so maybe it feels uneven in comparison but I don't think it's any less effective. Her art and thinking affect my thinking about art and thinking, and in some sense that is always what I'm reading for. The longer pieces worked much better for me--I wish they were all novels--but if I were to categorize my experience reading any DeWitt, it would be more as an end-user than reader (The Last Samurai, for instance, being more of a Bible to me than a Great Novel, though it is that), so nothing here fell flat. I look to her to expand my understanding of and appreciation for what it means to pay attention in this world, and for that she never disappoints. Her work is rare and special and it's heartening to see that even those who didn't love this one hope she continues to get the publishing support she deserves.

  22. 4 out of 5

    M

    Helen DeWitt offers a collection of language, mathematics, science, and theory presented as storytelling. The titular thirteen stories contained in this collection act ramble through unfinished potential in hopes of proving the author’s genius rather than actual tales. The premises are intriguing enough: Brutto tackles art and criticism, My Heart Belongs to Bertie explores probability, Remember Me highlights religion, and Climbers focuses on literary expression. Yet nearly all of the atories bec Helen DeWitt offers a collection of language, mathematics, science, and theory presented as storytelling. The titular thirteen stories contained in this collection act ramble through unfinished potential in hopes of proving the author’s genius rather than actual tales. The premises are intriguing enough: Brutto tackles art and criticism, My Heart Belongs to Bertie explores probability, Remember Me highlights religion, and Climbers focuses on literary expression. Yet nearly all of the atories become bogged down with long-winded exposition and little to no character development. The sole entry that does, On the Town, uses the juxtaposition between high brow New York and low brow Iowa to humorous effect, flipping the whole assumption on its head. DeWitt instead feels the need to name drop coding languages, famous literary works, classic musicians, and statistical probability. She even includes a conversation with a friend over a character, X, who has been reduced to little more than an abstract mathematical concept( when even her friends are at a loss, it is a safe bet readers will be as well. The true genius of Some Trick is how DeWitt was able to get people to buy the collection at all.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    I can't figure out how many stars to give this. DeWitt is intimidatingly brilliant, and I won't say "I didn't know what she was talking about half the time" because that would be an exaggeration, but not all that much of an exaggeration. I read a few reviews, or maybe just one, and requested the book from the library. I started reading the first story, "Brutto," and it was so odd I decided I didn't want to read the rest of the book. Then I was waiting for an appointment and it happened to be the I can't figure out how many stars to give this. DeWitt is intimidatingly brilliant, and I won't say "I didn't know what she was talking about half the time" because that would be an exaggeration, but not all that much of an exaggeration. I read a few reviews, or maybe just one, and requested the book from the library. I started reading the first story, "Brutto," and it was so odd I decided I didn't want to read the rest of the book. Then I was waiting for an appointment and it happened to be the only reading material in my car (other than the Mazda 6 Manual) so I kept reading the story, and then wanted to read more. The back flap says, "The author of The Last Samurai and Lightning Rods, Helen Dewitt knows, in descending order of proficiency, Latin, ancient Greek, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Japanese: 'The self is a set of linguistic patterns,' she said. 'Reading and speaking in another language is like stepping into an alternate history of yourself where all the bad connotations are gone.'" She doesn't just know all those languages, she freely inserts phrases in some of them into her primarily-English short stories, only occasionally with a translation. And she includes computer programming language stuff, all the cards and plays of a card game, and other things I didn't understand. Toward the end, I think I reached my limit: I had absolutely no idea what was going on in a few stories. My favorite story is "Climbers," in which one character is a famous, brilliant, barely sane author who is obsessed with words (more than one story features somebody obsessed with words; at least one story involves someone obsessed with music, and that character can't really read books because he's too distracted by the music going through his head). Peter Dijkstra had recently discovered a nice fact. There is a German word, getigert, for a cat with striped fur. This immediately transforms one's view of the animal. (This small domestic tiger.) This had led to another nice fact: the verb, tigern, means an activity which corresponds to the English words mooch, loiter (this on the authority of pons.eu), the French word flâner, all surely with radically different connotations from the Dutch word lanterfanten. . . . . lanterfanten is also the word which goes into the English for fiddle while Rome burns. And a flâneur, this is Baudelaire, this is an inhabitant of Walter Benjamin's Passagenwerk, the Arcade's Project. Jeepers! He wrote getigert!!!!! on one file card and tigern, mooch, loiter flâner, lanterfanten, and lummelen on another.97-98Well, yes, "jeepers!" I both had no idea what he meant (especially about Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin), but also enjoyed the obsessive train of thought about those words. Another character in the same story, Gil, who appears in a few stories, reads a few of that author's notebooks (the author of the paragraph above, Peter Dijkstra), and then goes for a walk, thinking, "The notebooks had, maybe discomfort isn't something you can crystallize, but he felt really uncomfortable." 98 Yes, perhaps that's how I felt about much of this book, at least the parts I liked. I didn't feel so much uncomfortable as confused with some of the stories. I do think that, had I read them more slowly, or re-read them, I might have understood more, but by this time I think I had done enough "figuring out" so I didn't have the time or energy. The characters are all brilliant: but they are usually brilliant, articulate, ultra-intellectual, academic idiots. And they compete with one another incessantly, so we get utterly brilliant conversations where, if I was lucky, I might have heard of a few of the references (literary theory, philosophy, etc.). Only one story is "about" sex (if that's the right way to put it), but is actually kind of funny; oh, and the male character is referred to as "X," which DeWitt, in an "Author's Note" at the end, says to someone asking her about it, is not her boyfriend, but is "a variable" :X and I are smiling. We are both charmed by [Boswell’s] flowered velvet. X’s hand moves up my thigh. I have noticed this tendency to reductionism in X before. The text is infinitely variegated, the subtext always the same. 120As I said, this is the only story about sex. A sex text. Not a sex subtext.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Pauline

    A book with a painting of a rabbit on the cover, and comments about how witty it is, should have been more enjoyable. I liked the inclusion of lines in foreign languages that the author didn't feel obliged to translate - until I got to languages that I don't know a single word. The fact that she managed to include a story about statistics (while I was also reading Taleb's The Black Swan, as it happened) was interesting, but didn't make the story itself particularly interesting. I simply didn't f A book with a painting of a rabbit on the cover, and comments about how witty it is, should have been more enjoyable. I liked the inclusion of lines in foreign languages that the author didn't feel obliged to translate - until I got to languages that I don't know a single word. The fact that she managed to include a story about statistics (while I was also reading Taleb's The Black Swan, as it happened) was interesting, but didn't make the story itself particularly interesting. I simply didn't find any of her characters interesting, with the possible exception of Gil from Iowa (perhaps because I live in Iowa, though I could not understand his desire to live in New York City, which I have visited occasionally and am generally glad to leave), and I could only guess at the point of some of the stories - and wondered if they actually had one. I've no idea how much of my failure to "get" DeWitt's stories is a shortcoming on my part vs hers, but nothing in this book made me want to read anything else by her, although some reviews gave me the impression I might enjoy an earlier book of hers.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Spiros

    A scattershot collection of profiles of obsessives, set mostly in London and New York, most of which are very much of the 21st century: a few of the more relaxed stories bear the legend "Oxford 1985", which seem to have been written earlier. My favorite is probably "On The Town", which follows the fortunes of Candide-like Gil, newly arrived from Iowa, as he scales the heights of hip and trendy Manhattan. I'm not sure if he reappears as the much more jaded Gil in the story "Climbers"; to me, it s A scattershot collection of profiles of obsessives, set mostly in London and New York, most of which are very much of the 21st century: a few of the more relaxed stories bear the legend "Oxford 1985", which seem to have been written earlier. My favorite is probably "On The Town", which follows the fortunes of Candide-like Gil, newly arrived from Iowa, as he scales the heights of hip and trendy Manhattan. I'm not sure if he reappears as the much more jaded Gil in the story "Climbers"; to me, it seems probable that swimming in the streams of success may have had that effect on our shiny young innocent. One of my other favorites was "Stolen Luck", in which Marc, a scandal rag photographer, spends a night playing poker with a bunch of minor hoodlums and a disaffected drummer from a rock band. The story reads like early (good) Guy Ritchie.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    This collection struck me as frustratingly schizophrenic, fluctuating between passages so erudite as to be impenetrable (literally, unexplained mathematical formulas and untranslated Polish sentences) and common moments presented in an unremarkable way (e.g., a list of poker hands and a rock band compared to the Beatles). At their best, however, DeWitt's stories so perfectly capture people we all know: the man who presses a woman for sex while masking his dubious behavior with feminist lingo, th This collection struck me as frustratingly schizophrenic, fluctuating between passages so erudite as to be impenetrable (literally, unexplained mathematical formulas and untranslated Polish sentences) and common moments presented in an unremarkable way (e.g., a list of poker hands and a rock band compared to the Beatles). At their best, however, DeWitt's stories so perfectly capture people we all know: the man who presses a woman for sex while masking his dubious behavior with feminist lingo, the aspiring novelist desperate to be the most interesting person in the room, the earnest midwesterner who is SO EXCITED to move to NEW YORK! I genuinely loved five of the stories, a solid hit rate, and appreciated the ideas and turns of phrase in many more.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Peter Landau

    What a treat to have SOME TRICK, a collection of stories by Helen DeWitt. She is able to take the novel and make it novel again, show readers that fiction can still be weird and new. These 13 stories revolve around money and art, but you never really know where they’re going. They can be erudite and colloquial, silly and serious, but they’re never short of smart. Who would think that math would become a genre? DeWitt applies her vast knowledge and seemingly endless curiosity about things high an What a treat to have SOME TRICK, a collection of stories by Helen DeWitt. She is able to take the novel and make it novel again, show readers that fiction can still be weird and new. These 13 stories revolve around money and art, but you never really know where they’re going. They can be erudite and colloquial, silly and serious, but they’re never short of smart. Who would think that math would become a genre? DeWitt applies her vast knowledge and seemingly endless curiosity about things high and low and blends them into these somewhat connected short stories to create almost a collage of characters, plots, settings and ideas that never fall apart or come together as much as amaze as they float through our heads.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    Wow, these were good. I’ve known some people who try really hard to seem original, and when I read stories like this I just shake my head, because this is the real thing. DeWitt’s writing style was what really grabbed me; I think I put half a dozen quotes into the Goodreads database, and I was genuinely surprised that at least some of them weren’t there already. It’s sharp, and bracing, with an almost astringent quality that I really liked—like sea air on a cold day, with just a hint of salt. No, Wow, these were good. I’ve known some people who try really hard to seem original, and when I read stories like this I just shake my head, because this is the real thing. DeWitt’s writing style was what really grabbed me; I think I put half a dozen quotes into the Goodreads database, and I was genuinely surprised that at least some of them weren’t there already. It’s sharp, and bracing, with an almost astringent quality that I really liked—like sea air on a cold day, with just a hint of salt. No, better: Her style is like a really beautifully cut suit, with clean, almost severely modern lines, but also featuring something fundamentally asymmetrical and unexpected. Must go find more by her.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Burke

    This book is really quintessentially Helen DeWitt, distilled down to her most Helen DeWitt self. There are multiple references to infoviz wizard Edward Tufte. There are graphs embedded in stories. There are stories that hinge primarily on discussions of Boswell's visits to Hume and Voltaire's deathbeds. Really, the pleasure in these stories is not for any singular story by its self (although "On the Town" and "Famous Last Words" [the aforementioned Boswell/Hume/Voltaire story] are both quite goo This book is really quintessentially Helen DeWitt, distilled down to her most Helen DeWitt self. There are multiple references to infoviz wizard Edward Tufte. There are graphs embedded in stories. There are stories that hinge primarily on discussions of Boswell's visits to Hume and Voltaire's deathbeds. Really, the pleasure in these stories is not for any singular story by its self (although "On the Town" and "Famous Last Words" [the aforementioned Boswell/Hume/Voltaire story] are both quite good). The pleasure, for me anyway, is just to be close to her obsessions, to see the way that she thinks. I don't know that any one of these stories would stand out as great on its own, but as a collection of *stuff* by one of the best authors writing in English, it is very, very pleasant to read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Matt Herman

    I'm stuck in between the stories here, largely in that I really loved some of them (Entourage perhaps being my favorite), quite enjoyed other stories, and had a couple stories that I think just went over my head. To the point that really I think I got a 3 out of this collection but that it was close enough (the stories I liked I really liked) that I want to tactically choose to rate this a 4 under the assumption that it'll benefit the chance of further work through potential increased popularity I'm stuck in between the stories here, largely in that I really loved some of them (Entourage perhaps being my favorite), quite enjoyed other stories, and had a couple stories that I think just went over my head. To the point that really I think I got a 3 out of this collection but that it was close enough (the stories I liked I really liked) that I want to tactically choose to rate this a 4 under the assumption that it'll benefit the chance of further work through potential increased popularity (despite, having read the author's note, knowing much more effective mechanisms to achieve said goal), but I just can't do that when comparing it to some of the other books I've read that fall somewhere along the same lines.

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