Charles Highway is a Rick Ocasek-looking, luggie horking, father-hating-for-unspecified-reasons, asthmatic…
Charles Yu is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Last year I gushed over the time travel repairman in his mind-bending How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and now I’m going to gush over his short story collection Sorry Please Thank You.
Sorry Please Thank You showcases why Charles Yu is so awesome: it’s so much more than science fiction.
All the stories in this collection do have a sci fi angle, like the opening story, “Standard Loneliness Package,” a look inside an emotional engineering firm that can ease your pain. Don’t want to lose it at a funeral? Funnel your sadness to someone in the firm. Breakup not going well? No problem, the firm can give your heartbreak to one of its employees. If you don’t want to feel loneliness, sadness, and pain, the employees in this firm can feel it for you, for a price. The worse the feeling, the more you’ll pay.
Another story, “Inventory,” is about a man waking up every morning in a different universe, trying to make sense of the people around him and any unspoken rules he must follow. The story goes through the inventory he does in his head trying to piece together his surroundings.
“Open” is about a couple with a door in their apartment that opens to a new world, a world where they are better people, a better couple, than they are in this world. They start immersing themselves in the other world more so than in ours.
So all the stories do have a sci fi angle, but Yu takes them so much deeper. In “Standard Loneliness Package,” we follow one of the employees of the emotional engineering firm and all the different jobs he has throughout the day, and they’re taking a toll on him and his relationships. When he and his co-workers feel so many feelings of customers all day long, are they allowed to feel their own? Can they?
In “Inventory,” the story is told as if the man is entering a new universe each day, but he’s always in the same body. Is he really entering a new universe or is he regretting what he does from day to day? Or does he really not remember what happens every day? Is this a man with something like Alzheimer’s and are we seeing what it’s like waking up without memories? Is he coping with it by telling himself that he’s universe jumping? I still don’t know the answer to these questions, but the fact that this story brings up these questions is a good thing.
And in “Open,” the story is so much more than people jumping through a mysterious door. This is an insight into the end of a relationship and the silly things we cling to when we try to prove to ourselves that there really is something good when there isn’t.
The stories Yu tells in Sorry Please Thank You can and should be read on a much deeper level. These are more than tales about interesting ideas, like passing sadness to someone else; they are moving stories about relationships, loneliness, heartbreak, and there are some hilarious moments, too. These stories are filled with social commentary and they really are much more about the human experience than they are about the fantastical surroundings. Well done.