Michael Amon’s THE CHAMPAGNE TALES spans decades, continents, and genres while spinning ten stories, each of which is somehow related to champagne. Though the drink is meant to be the sole unifier within the book, other themes–of memory, and especially of social status and money–recur throughout as well. Some stories take the premise to unexpected places, like gay conversion camps, Instagram influencer weddings, or Vegas pawn shops, while several take place within the world of champagne and winemaking.
The best stories of the bunch, like “Reach For the Stars” and “Happy Anniversary,” achieve a wide storytelling scope and have a core of true emotion at their center, while others, like “The Rarest Bottle,” pull off unexpected endings that resonate. Overall, though, the ambitious collection overreaches as often as not; its lesser stories are like a froth of bubbles, substance-free and quick to dissipate.
“The Review” takes the form of a painful Yelp review, and while the source of its vitriol–either bourgeois restaurants or their ungrateful hipster customers–is unclear, it establishes the type of wealthy jerk stock character who re-appears again and again throughout the book’s pages, becoming more insufferable each time. The book’s most egregious misstep, however, is a story about dope-slinging youths called “Life in the Fast Lane” that’s rife with out-of-date slang and over-the-top dialectic spellings. At one point, a character decides that [HBO’s old hit show] The Wire’s Hollywood portrayal of the streets is dangerous if emulated, an ironic claim given this collection’s penchant for emulating the aesthetic of said works without granting characters the nuance needed to make them feel real. And while some endings land, others end on a short-sighted punchline, as when “The Review” signs off with a weak bit about getting laid by a nameless female character who is ignored for almost the entire story.
THE CHAMPAGNE TALES sparkles most when describing the drinks that give it its name; passages detailing the ways in which a simple bottle can represent family, love, tradition, success, and celebration read as more authentic than anything else on the page, and the drink-expert characters’ enthusiasm is catching. This inconsistent collection’s greatest triumph, perhaps, is its ability to make a simple flute of champagne into a thing worth loving.
Always bold but rarely as profound as it aims to be, Michael Amon’s THE CHAMPAGNE TALES is an uneven collection of themed stories that is at least consistently surprising.
~Valerie Ettenhofer for IndieReader