Bobcat and other stories

by Rebecca Lee

Paperback, 2013




Chapel Hill, North Carolina : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013.


Rebecca Lee, one of our most gifted and original short story writers, guides readers into a range of landscapes, both foreign and domestic, crafting stories as rich as novels. A student plagiarizes a paper and holds fast to her alibi until she finds herself complicit in the resurrection of one professor's shadowy past. A dinner party becomes the occasion for the dissolution of more than one marriage. A woman is hired to find a wife for the one true soulmate she's ever found. In all, Rebecca Lee traverses the terrain of infidelity, obligation, sacrifice, jealousy, and yet finally, optimism. Showing people at their most vulnerable, Lee creates characters so wonderfully flawed, so driven by their desire, so compelled to make sense of their human condition, that it's impossible not to feel for them when their fragile belief in romantic love, domestic bliss, or academic seclusion fails to provide them with the sort of force field they'd expected.… (more)

Media reviews

Overall, this is a potent, quietly daring and sturdily imagined collection, rich with a subtlety in short supply in our current short-fiction landscape, where writers seem to settle for lobbing verbal grenades in the reader’s general direction. In stories like “Bobcat” and “Fialta,” there is the real sense of significance, as though a whole subway system’s worth of meaning is roaring beneath the text, ready to whisk the reader anywhere they need to go.

User reviews

LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
The inimitable n+1 magazine talks about literary fiction at the present time as being a matter of "MFA vs. NYC": two solitudes consisting of those particular bookworlds and their preoccupations (one internal, small-is-beautiful, feelingsy; the other ballsy, all-the-world's-a-stagey, often interested in personal stories only or predominantly in terms of the historical or social processes they embody; one could go on, of course, but the point was that both feel arid sometimes.

After reading Rebecca Lee's stories, which are certainly MFA-ey (all but one take place on university campuses) but which try with moderate success to adopt an NYC-ey detachment (she is excellent at sketching many diverting types from the outside, but not so much at getting inside or protagonizing them without protagonistically making them into the same person, I suspect someone much like herself), I can conclude that at least one thing MFA and NYC have in common is a deep interest in who's sleeping with whom. But she doesn't make it seem too gossipy, and all the characters are basically decent which is nice, and these were well crafted and if I am starting to forget them like so much "the fruits of one's fellow writing workshop participants," that says less about Lee's good work and more about the fundamental unseriousness with which I live my own life--and who says anyway that we shouldn't meet our authors amid the turmoil of this life just to embrace once and then depart and forget?
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
I have gotten to be a huge fan of the short story, so was really excited to win this book to review. Sadly, it just was not that good. Even though I actually like the way this author writes (she is quite skillful and can create a scene that really puts the reader there), I had a very difficult time getting through most of the stories because the characters were just so ... uninteresting and flat, vapid even, as were the plots (or sometimes, just the settings or what have you, as most of them were plot-less, which is okay in a short story). Most of the stories revolve around some facet of academia and maybe I've just read too much about that, but it was hard to care about these folks' lives, all the affairs they are having, the stupid things they did and said to appear learned or different or ... something. I think a big part of the problem was the constant use of first person, so all of the stories felt like the exact same narrator, with the same friends, problems, backgrounds, etc. I'm a bit surprised at all the accolades on this book. It makes me wonder if all the authors who praised this books are the author's buddies.… (more)
LibraryThing member JackieBlem
The remarkable Rebecca Lee manages to bring seven short stories into this slim volume. That does not mean that the narrative is rushed or confusing--I've never read an author who can drop me into a story so easily and with such detail. I entered into scenarios already in full bloom, yet I was able to grasp the what was going on, and how the drama was unfolding . In some ways, it seemed like eavesdropping, yet I still felt like a part of every story. I was a witness to these folks infidelities, jealousies, insecurities, sacrifices and was not depressed by their troubles because each story seemed to end with the sense of hitting a hard spot in life but seeing their way through it. I just can't explain Lee's talent clearly enough, so I'm just going to urge you to read the book. You won't be sorry.… (more)
LibraryThing member sleahey
These are beautifully written short stories with interesting smart contemporary characters dealing with relationships, academic, domestic, and familial.
LibraryThing member bfolds
Engaging stories told in a voice I've not heard before -- i'll definitely look for more from Rebecca Lee.
LibraryThing member KatyBee
Scoot over, Alice Munro, and make room on the short story couch for Rebecca Lee, the wonderful writer of this striking collection called 'Bobcat and Other Stories'. Reading each one is a journey into a perfectly described world, populated with totally unique, authentic characters.

Narrating in the first person works well for these little tales that are each picture-perfect in their own way. I was reminded of a delving into a rich buffet of stories, wishing for another ‘chapter’ in many cases, but always very involved and ultimately impressed.

There are several themes that appear in these short tales. Most have a connection to a college campus and it’s obvious that Lee loves these settings as she describes buildings, professors, and the intellectual atmosphere of the places. She writes about the interrelationships between people, identity and choice, and both what’s on the surface and underneath the appearances of our lives. Several characters have interesting tics, some have warm, strong personalities or families, some have political or global connections, and many are going through transition.

Rebecca Lee says that she is a very slow writer, but I think that works well for her. In an interview online, she mentioned something that John Gardner said about revision: that the first draft is building the home and the subsequent drafts are living in it. That’s an excellent description of the level of her writing - ‘living inside the work’. I know that I will revisit these stories and will find them just as fascinating a second and third time. This is highly recommended for readers who love excellent short story collections.
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LibraryThing member kpolhuis
These stories are well written and, I only guess here, have a unifying theme of desire. Not, of course, of the same type of desire. I have to admit I was pretty bummed about the topics. There wasn't anything here that uplifted me emotionally (it was mostly in the other direction...down), and I was very thoughful after reading each story. This isn't something I am comfortable with, but I welcome it because each new experience is a challenge and I felt that I could probably spend a lot of time pulling apart each story and finding new nuances I hadn't experienced the previous reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member herzogbr
I haven't read a book of short stories in a long time, but this collection reminded me why I enjoy them so much. Each of these stories is so rich and engaging that I was disappointed when they ended. They are each very diverse from the rest, yet hung together with a similar style that allowed me into the texture of each enough so that I missed the characters afterward - usually for me that only happens with novels.… (more)
LibraryThing member JolleyG
When I read the books of authors such as Rebecca Lee, I have renewed hope in the publishing industry. It seems it is still possible to get high-quality literature published in this profit-driven business.

Each story in Rebecca Lee's book Bobcat and Other Stories is cleverly crafted, and each of her sentences is a delicious treat. The author is able to create interesting characters that are vividly brought to life, and her scenarios are so inventive and bizarre that you feel that somehow they must be halfway true. Of course, her stories are so literate that they may only appeal to a certain segment of the population, but I see nothing wrong with that.

How fortunate for future writers that the author is also a teacher of creative writing. If she can convey her genius to her students, they are incredibly blessed.

After reading this book I immediately obtained her novel "The City is a Rising Tide," and I look forward to more pleasurable reading.
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LibraryThing member drewsof
I didn't overtly hate anything about this collection, nor did I find it lacked in any redeeming qualities. The writing is, I will say, at times quite good. But I did find myself just irritated by it, for reasons that I can't entirely explain. It all was too, well, academic. There was a sense of pretension in these stories that I just couldn't stomach - as though this is the sort of lofty writing Ms. Lee was taught and, ooh, ahh, isn't it great? But for my money, I'd rather be actually engaged by the story at hand than impressed by how you've told it.

There'll be a full review at RB later this week but, really, why bother. Skip this book.
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LibraryThing member goodmanbrown
Bobcat is fantastic, easily the best lit fic collection I’ve read this year. Almost every story will teach you something interesting about some corner of the world-- linguistics, arranged marriage, architectural design. Almost every story turns into a surprisingly gripping meditation on the discovery and maintenance of the proper balance between contentment and desire.

A number of the stories feature characters bumping of against the fringes of events whose historical sweep they can’t possibly understand. In “The Banks of the Vistula,” an unprepared freshman plagiarizes an essay for her Introductory Linguistics course. This kicks of a series of consequences that lead her ever farther out of her depth, and into the teeth of an intensely personal debate about Soviet collaborators in occupied Poland at the close of World War II.

In “Min,” an American college student from Montana spends the summer in Hong Kong during the Vietnamese refugee crisis of 1981. She’s staying with the family of the Chinese man charged with managing the crisis. From her position as a guest in a small enclave of wealth and power, she tries to see clearly the social and historical forces that are swirling outside, while at the same time playing her appointed part in her host’s household drama. The whole of the interplay between personal and social dramas in these stories is much greater than the sum of their parts.

Stylistically, Lee sometimes assembles lucid stories out of fragments and digressions she’s unafraid to leave behind. If there’s a gun on the mantle in the first scene, there’s little reason to expect it to appear again. For example, “Min” begins with a faculty committee hearing for a professor accused of inappropriate behavior toward his female students. There’s wonderful tension and intrigue, and a great sketch of the professor’s character. But it turns out this scene, which would itself be fodder for a first-rate story, is the occasion on which the story’s two main characters met, and is never revisited in any important way.

The title story is an entire bouquet of fragments and digressions-- bits of backstory, memories of the narrator-- that work together in a way that gives the story tons of depth. From the bird’s-eye perspective, the story is a long account of a painful dinner party. But the glimpses Lee gives us leave me feeling as if I understand these characters better than I understand some of my own friends.

Lee writes in a distinctive voice that is uniform throughout the stories. It’s deliberate and sensitive, with sharp observations, surprising phrasings, and subtle humor, sometimes all at once, as when a character says of her colleague in the history department: “She used history in the most chilling way possible, as a metaphor for events in her own life.” In another favorite passage, Lee perfectly describes the exact moment dinner parties go sour. Everything is going great, “but then there is the subtle shift downward. Somebody is a little too drunk. The bird, which was a bronze talismanic centerpiece, golden and thriving, is revealed as a collection of crazy bones.” Lee’s voice works well in every story, whether narrated by a middle-aged professor, a college freshman, or an apprentice architect. But the consistent voice does blunt the impact of the book if you binge-read it. (Why do all these different characters sound alike?)

Lee also has a few go-to tricks that can be distracting if you don’t let the stories settle for a while. In several stories, the narrator offers an earnest evaluation of the recent publications of her/his friends and colleagues. Many characters deploy quotations in conversation-- from Ovid more than once. More than one character has a facial tic. These are always effective an appropriate techniques in the stories in which they appear, but when you see them three or four times in one day, it starts to feel like we’re catching a glimpse of the puppet strings.

So: if you have any kind of soft spot for American short fiction, definitely read Bobcat. Every single story is great. Just maybe take it at a pace of one story a week, no matter how much you want to keep reading, so as to get the full impact of each.
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LibraryThing member EEDevore
Rebecca Lee's characters are perfectly ordinary people in perfectly ordinary situations: a husband and wife preparing for a dinner party, a student dealing with the consequences of plagiarism, a woman being deceived by a married man. They are characters with pets that bring them "half-alive things" in their teeth in the middle of the night and who have intense friendships that last a life time. The beauty of these stories lies in their ordinariness. Even in "Min," a story that seems farfetched in that the main character follows her friend Min to China to pick out his wife, Lee presents regular themes--friendship and love--in a believable way. Lee shows how these ordinary situations are part of the human experience and essential to human growth. Rather than moping about failed relationships or international problems, these characters accept their situations, deal with them, and grow as people. Lee also presents the conflicts that occur in an increasingly global community as almost every story involves interactions between characters of different cultures. If you are looking for extraordinary circumstances or plot twists, this is not the book for you; however, if you are looking for an author who can take the ordinary and find the extraordinary within it, pick up Rebecca Lee's Bobcat and Other Stories.… (more)
LibraryThing member jbealy
There is justice in the world after all. Just as eminent short story writer Alice Munro announces her retirement, Rebecca Lee rises with the full force of a writer who can actually fill the gap left by Ms Munro's departure. There is nary a story in "Bobcat..." with a sentence out of place. Every tale is unique, beautifully rendered, true to its characters, and funny in places that surprise us. Just like real life. This is a book I will keep and stories I will visit again and again.… (more)
LibraryThing member reluctantm
Wow. A collection of deftly told, engagingly written, amazing short stories worth all the accolades bestowed upon them. Normally I find short story collections to be somewhat uneven - there are often a few stunners buoyed up by some also-rans - but every single story in this collection merits its inclusion. There is a little bit of sameness (many of the stories revolve around a university setting), but by no means is this book repetitive.

I'm jealous. I wish I could write like this.
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LibraryThing member Scrabblenut
I enjoy well-written short stories, and this book was a delight. The author lets you right into the mind of her characters, and the stories grabbed me right away, with their subtle humour, surprising turns of events, interesting settings, and incredibly beautiful and insightful writing. Each story ends with hints of what is to come later, and leaves it to the reader to contemplate. This is a book that should be read carefully and savoured, and perhaps read again to delight in the turns of phrase. Everyone can recognize the human experiences described in this book. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member davisonme
I enjoy short stories as a whole, so I was looking forward to receiving this book in the mail. I have been having a hard time getting through it. I am finding the story line often gets lost in the details the author provides.
LibraryThing member actress133
Skillful storytelling and some great imagery. Needed a little bit more 'action' from the characters.
LibraryThing member Moppette
"Bobcat" by Rebecca Lee may have been the short story collection I was meant to read this summer. I found the stories interesting and moved along at a quick pace for an enjoyable read. Having read a lot of short stories of late I usually find only a couple of the stories in a collection of interest but was pleasantly surprised that there wasn't one dud in this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member noveltea
I was surprised over and over while reading these stories of ethical dilemmas and disasters waiting to happen: surprised by what happened next, and by what didn't happen, and most of all by how much I was enjoying this collection.

Rebecca Lee uses humor wonderfully--a stressed dinner party hostess blurts out that she has a "favorite" member of the Donner Party--but she is never quirky for the sake of being quirky. At least a couple of these stories have the kind of richness of character and detail and theme I hope for (but don't always find) in a novel.

These are mature stories about people who are working at being mature themselves. I can certainly relate to that. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member loosha
I usually like short stories and this book treated me to a great reading day.The characters in this collections and the slices of their lives that I was treated to are memorable, real, and enduring. The first story, Bobcat, gave me a good jolt of surprise at its conclusion. Vistula and Slatland both contained a bit of humour and some moral dilemmas that I could relate to. Lovely imagery throughout, sentences that had to be read more than once for their ideas.
Physically the book could use some improvement. The cover promptly became unglued. The gratuitous quote on the front jacket would be better off omitted.

A total aside that has nothing remotely to do with this review or the book, but a very strange coincidence...last week, after over thirty years living in this neighbourhood, we saw a bobcat carrying a small marmot in its mouth. Last night the critter appeared in our backyard and stared us down for a few minutes before retreating into the night. Anyways, thank you Early Reviewers and Algonquin Press for the book.
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LibraryThing member upstairsgirl
This collection of short stories probably isn't going to set the world on fire, but it's worth reading anyway. The stories are well-crafted, without a single undercooked-feeling entry among them. They're different, surprising, and well-constructed, with a depth that makes clear how much thought Rebecca Lee has put into what she wants to say. Lee perhaps writes more about college students than I'd otherwise read, but at least here the settings are recognizable and no one's a hapless victim of the overly-rarefied, overly-PC campus groupthink that so many academically-set short stories want the reader to believe is A Real Thing. Lee writes lovely sentences and unexpected characters that don't waste the reader's time explaining themselves, and the result is a thoroughly enjoyable collection.… (more)
LibraryThing member TadAD
I read this in a single sitting. That's not a terrific achievement as this collection of seven short stories isn't terribly long but, even if it were, I think I would have done the same.

Lee's characters are so fundamentally real. It's odd. When I sit back and think about them outside of the act of reading them, they seem so...perhaps too...self-aware and self-reflective. I have the thought, "Surely, not everyone on the planet is this introspective." Yet, when I step back into the next story, its narrator again seems someone I can reach out and touch, someone I know, someone real.

Most of the stories end on an inhale, a moment when the situation is understood or the problem is defined, but the future is only vaguely indicated. I usually do not care for this but it worked very well here, causing me to think about, "What might this go? What will be the path taken from the present we see to final ending that Lee prefigures?"

I wouldn't say that these stories deliver any great insights or life-changing moments, but they are alive and heartbreaking and eminently readable.
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LibraryThing member TracyCampbell
This was a book I received through the Early Reviewers giveaway. Although I am not a huge fan of short stories I really enjoyed most of these. They are all separate stores, so no need to read them in order, and while all of them have an academic overtone, they are quite good. Very creative writing and interesting characters that I could relate to, even if I didn't necessarily like them. Rebecca Lee has a wonderful way with words - very beautiful and descriptive prose.… (more)
LibraryThing member LDVoorberg
I generally prefer novels to short stories, but this collection is the perfect blend. Rebecca Lee's stories break out of the traditionally defined short story (aboout one singular event) to take place over months ("Fialta") or a year ("Min" and "The Banks of the Vistula") or even years ("Slatland"). Those stories that do take place around a singular event ("Bobcat" and to some extent "World Party") are given plenty of history and depth to make it feel like you know the characters as well as if you were following them through a novel. Each story has plenty of detail and musings and nuance to make a second or third read worthwhile. These are the types of short stories that can be studied and discussed in a book club or even literature class in university.

In fact, university students may enjoy a few of the stories because they do take place on a campus (all but the first and last). The collection itself can be studied. For example, compare "Bobcat" and "Settlers" because both involve dinner parties. Or "The Banks of the Vistula" and "Fialta" to compare the professor/student relationship.

My favourite story is "Min" partly because its story has the breadth and depth and plot of a novel, but it moves along swiftly and succinctly in short story form.

I admit that I don't understand "Bobcat." Its ending was too abrupt for me and left me with too many questions. The reference at the end, "she formed the perfect answer to the question that was County Clanagh" is too vague for me. I know County Clanagh refers to the narrator's honeymoon when she came across her husband inexplicably crying, but does that mean he was crying then already about the "she" in the quotation? The theme of adultery is clear in the story, and the narrator thinks someone should tell the wife whose husband is cheating that she is being cuckolded, so the irony is clear, but the leap is just a little to big for me in the swift ending of the story. Perhaps that is meant to mimic the feeling that one has in such a situation. Life seems to crash in those moments when knowledge which had been bubbling under the surface suddenly bursts out in front of you. Or perhaps there is another explanation.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book and thank LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program for awarding me this copy.
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LibraryThing member its-lauren2
This was an excellent book! The premises of the stories are imaginative and intriguing (a dinner party becomes the occasion for the dissolution of more than one marriage, a student plagiarizes a paper and holds fast to her alibi until she finds herself complicit in the resurrection of one professor's shadowy past) and are beautifully written. "Bobcat" is an absolute delight.… (more)



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