If you want to read a lot of over-the-top praise (or buy the book), then check out the quotes at this link. If you aint got time for that and just want the highlights which are most indicative of how genuinely awesome this collection is, here you go:
“Fountain… is the perfect author to convert people who don’t read short stories.”
“The author brings the virtuosity of Greene and le Carre to tales of foreign adventures.”
“Ben Fountain… blew me out of the water. These stories are absolutely jaw-dropping.”
-Audrey Bullar, Joseph-Beth Booksellers
The New York Times Book Review calls it “exceptional,” Kirkus Reviews calls it “impeccable,” and New York Newsday calls it “exhilarating;” if you read only one short story collection this year…
It took me years to read Brief Encounters with Che Guevara. The first story, “Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera,” is like a literary bullet to the brain. I got five stories deep in a few days – page after page of perfect metaphors, real-as-sweat characters, and fishhook plotting – and just stopped with three stories left. I started the “The Lion’s Mouth” three times, drinking with Jill and at the Royal Sierra in Sierra Leone, listening to her thoughts, watching the louche Starkey join her for a local gin (as long as Bazzy is pouring). In three glorious pages, I knew “The Lion’s Mouth” would be as amazing as the rest of the book (if you’re looking for a misstep or a throwaway in this collection, you won’t find it). I couldn’t find a weak link so I put it aside entirely.
I stopped for two reasons. First, I didn’t want it to be over. Second, the stories were so rich it was nearly too much to take all at once. You read these stories, which feel like wine reductions, chocolate bars that are 80% pure Cacao, encyclopedias of knowledge shrunk into novellas, and you realize that most short stories are filler. Ben Fountain is defining the short story, and other authors are kidding themselves. In prolonging it, I thought I might understand his work better. I thought I might see the strings.
It didn’t work. So now Brief Encounters with Che Guevara sits on my desert island shelf, subject to re and re-re-readings, as I try to get everything I can from its pages. Its the work of a lifetime, but Ben Fountain makes it feel like anything but work.