Click here to read reviewer Steven Rosen's take on Fitting Ends.
Dan Chaon’s title story "Fitting Ends" appeared in the Best American Short Stories 1996 and, in the appendix to that volume, he wrote a blurb on how he creates stories:
"Writing stories for me, is something like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I write hundreds of pages of fragments every year and put them in folders together, hoping they will mate…"In the interaction between the quarreling brothers Del and Stewart in the story, it is obvious that Chaon has given a lot of thought to how they communicate.
In fact, Chaon has seriously and deeply analyzed young people in this volume of thirteen short stories and his first collection. These young people are extremely pessimistic and fearful of the future, and although there are signs in the stories that they will eventually be capable of holding their own, their trepidation is well captured.
A lot has to do with social circumstances and their family influences and being in small towns in Nebraska (familiar territory for the author). While Chaon is brutally honest and unflinchingly accurate in focusing on the failures and weaknesses of his young characters as they grapple with issues of sexuality, dysfunctional parents, depressing financial realities such as bad credit or dead end jobs, his stories may scare students into staying on at college -- for maybe another year -- rather than facing the prospect of a merciless world where things are so... cut and dried.
The tone of the stories is sober but solid and very touching. They don’t, however, conclude in some cases, highlighting the irony of the title. Chaon's choosing a location and dealing with characters who are fixated in their lives is reminiscent of James Joyce’s collection of short stories in The Dubliners, where he portrayed characters who have this inability to change their lives or their circumstances. They are powerless to exist outside of their given arena, as are Chaon’s young people.
The stories vary from a man who depends on his grandmother to energize his life to a party-boy who doesn’t exist in reality to the coming-out of a homosexual boy to a young man living with his brother and sister-in-law. All use different techniques and shifts in mood; for instance, in "My Sister’s Honeymoon: A Videotape," a brother views said tape and physically points out the changes in his sister throughout her life while he is visiting her.
Chaon's characters are stuck in the present with no clue as to how they can advance into their futures. Indeed, they are the sort of people Percy B. Shelley immortalized in his poem "Skylark": ‘they look before and after and pine for what is not.’ But things are not all hopelessness and despair, it is just not too certain.
This is the second edition of Chaon’s book; he has reworked some stories. His second collection of stories, Among the Missing, is also out. He is also working on a novel entitled I Wake Up. His work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and The O'Henry Awards: Prize Stories, and has been translated into several languages. He is married to the writer Sheila Schwartz, and they live with their two sons and two cats in Cleveland.