Characters find triumph in small moments in Vincent Chu’s new short fiction collection, Like a Champion. These quietly hopeful stories are a breath of fresh air.

Chu hands us a diversity of characters, all underdogs to varying degrees. For the most part, the stories follow a pattern: someone is having a rough day (or month, or year, or life), but then the universe sends them a small token of hope, or they find just enough courage to do something virtuous, and for one shining moment, they feel like a champion. Even protagonists who are downright unlikeable, like Hal in “Star of the World,” who thinks that the “Orientals” made up global warming to keep people buying Japanese, and sends his daughter a birthday card begging her to send him money and fix his computer, among other things, have redeemable moments.

As a whole, this collection is really endearing. None of the stories outstays its welcome; they’re short and sweet. In another author’s hands, this collection easily could have turned dark. Each of the characters feels desperate, or lonely, or loser-ish in some way. Chu does a great job of capturing the palpable, excruciating sense of social awkwardness – that sense that everyone’s having a party and you’re not invited (in two of the stories, literally). But he keeps everything light and comic, even at times when things do get dark.

The downside of the formulaic nature of these stories is that, read one after another, it can get a bit repetitive. (Chu finds surprising ways to subvert the formula, and not every story follows the “optimistic ending” bit, but for the most part they do.) However, the nice thing about a short story collection is that you can read one or two stories, put it down for a while, and come back to it when you need a bright, funny story. If you’re looking for an optimistic read, try Like a Champion.

The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.