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Arts and Entertainment

The Corruption of the Complacent

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Kneel, short-story-writers, at the impeccably groomed, British feet of Matthew Kneale. His new book, Small Crimes In An Age of Abundance, not only has the best title of any short-story collection this year, but this best material between its covers. (It also has the best cover, an etching of a fat pig's behind.) These satiric, chilling, hilarious stories will shake you up like the salt at the table.

Kneale deals with the First-World human out of his element, and how that human reacts when threatened. The stories range in location to many different continents, frequently dealing with the clash between the wealthy tourists and the less wealthy, but more crafty, folks they encounter on their pleasure trips. What would it take to drive a successful, outwardly liberal man to violence? Theft? Buying a knife for the purpose of killing his neighbor? To condemning an innocent man to torture and death? Kneale lets you know exactly what it would take, and it's a lot less than you'd think.

Kneale writes like a skater, with a lot of edge. It only takes one small incident for the happy fortunes of the middle-class white protagonists to sharply deteriorate. Our favorite was the story "Powder," about a middle-class man living beyond his means who accidentally discovers a bag of premium cocaine. Once he starts selling it (and enjoying the money it brings) he can't stop. His proper wife, far from disgusted, demands her own cut and starst taking over the business. But their children are horrified. The parents lose control of their family and eventually go to jail, but without regretting their actions or their money. To them, it was absolutely the right thing to do.

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We don't think it's a stretch to compare Kneale to Flaubert, or to argue that no one has skewered the bourgeois so effectively for years. Read it, laugh, and be chilled.