Monday, May 23, 2016

Book Review: "The Virginity of Famous Men: Stories" by Christine Sneed

Like you wouldn't be intrigued by a book with this title?

While at times, fiction can take us to worlds, places, times, and/or cultures we can only imagine, at other times, fiction can be equally as effective chronicling the ordinary, everyday activities and foibles we confront in our lives and relationships. Perhaps not all of the situations described in the stories in Christine Sneed's new collection, The Virginity of Famous Men, happen to people every day, but I'd imagine many happen rather frequently.

Sneed's stories are about relationships of all kinds—marital, romantic, parental, sibling, colllegial, even other-worldly. The characters are often flawed in some way, or struggling with some type of crisis or challenge—some serious, some humorous, some ridiculous. But while nothing earth-shattering happens in these stories, they're all tremendously compelling, and nearly all pass the ultimate test of a good story for me—I'd be happy to see many of them converted into novels.

Among my favorites in the collection were: "The Couplehood Jubilee," in which one half of a long-dating, unmarried couple decides it's time she be somewhat compensated for the many weddings and bridal showers she has participated in; "Older Sister," about a vulnerable college student confronting something she thinks happened to her, as well as the sudden discovery that she has an older half-sister; "Words That Once Shocked Us," which tells of a middle-aged divorced woman who wants to get involved when her younger coworker is contemplating infidelity; "Clear Conscience," about the tug-of-war between sexual attraction and family loyalty; the title story, which deals with an unsettled rivalry between a man and his movie star father; and my favorite story, "Five Rooms," about a teenage girl who spends time with an older blind man, and the favor she does him.

I was really impressed with the way Sneed was able to lay out a story in a short amount of time, creating complex and memorable characters, and fascinating situations. She has a real ear for dialogue, both interpersonal and internal, and you could actually imagine people saying such things to one another. While not all of the stories worked perfectly, I found this to be a really strong collection overall, and it has definitely motivated me to read some of her earlier work.

NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!


  1. Thanks so much for this insightful and generous review of The Virginity of Famous Men - I very much appreciate it.

    By the way, "Five Rooms" is a story that I'm very happy is finding a second life in this collection. So pleased that you enjoyed it.

    1. Thanks so much, Christine, for taking the time to reply! Great collection, and I look forward to reading more of your work.

    2. Unrelated question - have you written a post about Rachel Cusk's Outline? I just read it and really liked it a lot. (I should search your site, I realize...) Thank you again for your kind review!

  2. I haven't read Outline yet, but it's on my list. I definitely have been wanting to read it! Thanks again, Christine.