So full disclosure is that I know the author. We went to grad school together and used to play darts in the TA shared office space. He once stole a joke from me and put it in his first book.
But luckily I like his stories.
This is a really funny, incredibly off-kilter collection of short stories. It’s hard to categorize the stories themselves because they all involve a level of absurdity and playfulness and involve such a wide variety of subjects. The defining feature is that most if not each story takes a moment of absurdity or an absurd convention or conceit, and just lets it keep playing out. And then lets it go on longer. The opening story involves a blind date in which each participant plays out the shared language of failed relationship and project all past trauma onto the other with comic intensity. In another, a child’s wish to becomes a ventriloquist cannot be thwarted by her dummy simply being a charred block of wood. In another, a young professional frustrated in love accidentally starts dating a high school student.
The easiest way for me to think about how these stories function is like taking Donald Barthelme stories and displaying them writ large. So that the effect is that they’re allowed to go to their logical conclusion.
Here’s a sample from “Dummies”:
“When she was eleven years old, my older sister Cassie carried a ventriloquist’s dummy with her wherever she went. The dummy’s name was Marilyn, and at first nobody had the heart to tell Cassie that Marilyn was not really a dummy, but a charred log from our fireplace. Every night Cassie slept in her narrow bed with this splintered wedge of burnt wood. She cuddled with it on the sofa while watching soap operas and sitcoms, and she left ashy smudges on everything she touched, from the refrigerator door to her once-white gerbils. Cassie’s homeroom teacher was concerned. The school psychologist, Nancy Palermo, asked my father if we had recently lost any family members to a house blaze or fiery car crash, anything like that. My father said, “Not exactly.” Ms. Palermo wanted to see Cassie three times a week after school for private consultations.
We lived in a squat, crumbling yellow brick house surrounded by tiger lilies. All the houses on Hood Lane were the same size. Our street appealed to young couples just starting out, elderly folks in pajamas, recovering addicts taking life one day at a time, and struggling small business owners. There were no block parties or street fairs, but every now and then some drunk kid would crash his father’s car into a tree, and we’d all gather around swimming in the headlights.
My mother’s absence from our lives—she said she was just getting her head straight in Tampa, Florida—forced my father to become the sole nurturer in our household, a terrible burden added to his already overwhelming duties as paragon and provider. He hadn’t touched a vodka tonic in over fourteen months. But when my mother took off for Florida, a move that took us all by surprise, Dad stopped going to his Don’t Drink meetings and stayed home with us.”