Use Your Imagination!

by Kris Bertin

Use Your Imagination! is a short story collection that very immediately put me in mind with Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, both because the majority of the stories deal with misfits behaving badly––or just strangely––and because they’re built upon a solid foundation of exceptional writing. This is happily one of those cases where the why of it all readily comes across. Bertin focuses on small details with a precision I don’t recall seeing so strongly since reading Sean Michaels’ Us Conductors, and this makes the people and the world described come alive. He’s also adept at expressing straightforward ideas that ring true, making the stories reek with sincerity. (Contrast this against Stephen Markley’s Ohio or Liz Harmer’s The Amateurs, that became bogged down from the attempt to do too much and do it too big.) And Bertin knows how to direct readers, throwing us off the scent of important details without actually hiding them and cultivating an effective and meaningful surprise as a result.

While I understand that it’s still early in the life of this book at the time of writing this, the few reviews on Goodreads haven’t been especially kind to it. It feels tragic that a book that so thoroughly impressed me is being met with such vague and petty criticism, mainly because I worry that readers will give it a pass because it doesn’t look like anything special. But I hope I can push back even just a little bit with a suggestion that Use Your Imagination! is something special, because it really is.