01 July 2011

Dogsbodies and Scumsters by Alan McCormick and Illustrated by Jonny Voss

Quirky tales of ne’er do wells and washouts strive side by side with poetical furniture and terminally ill wives in this short story collection. I found the characters endearing and whole in the sketches of these fractured souls and recommend the series to any who delight in witty, bite sized fiction that grows more worthy upon reflection, even as it captivates you during the read. Roast books has excelled again in putting forth this new author for their readers and fans; where do they find these story tellers? If I were to ask McCormick, perhaps he could spin a tale of the underground vat where he was grown on a diet of hearty adjectives and high-protein nouns. I’ll highlight two stories that were favorites in this collection, and leave you, reader dearest, to enjoy the rest unprepared as I was.

“Deal or No Deal” is Brenda’s tale, and Brenda is a very pitiful creature. The story opens mildly, with the socially awkward girl struggling to understand her sister’s harrangues, handle the insults of her bratty niece and nephew and understand her grocer’s friendliness which is just as confusing to her as the nastiness she endures from her family. I was completely caught up in pity for her, an apparent  lost soul. And then, as she goes through her day making tea and watching a game show in the company of her neighbor, her past slips out in dribs and drabs until suddenly the pity switch flips back to neutral. I didn’t suddenly feel that her family was right to be nasty to her, but I could understand why they were. That McCormack could get me to flip by judgment in 6 pages of concise text is a cunningly efficient maneuver which left me a bit wobbly in my reading parts.

“Storyteller” finds Katie careening through her life at a fast pace, following a bomb blast. As she unwinds the knots of her tangled tale her patter becomes less and less assured, her poise starts to slip. She lives a mendacious life, and she knows it, justifies it, and celebrates it. She never apologizes, and  doesn’t entertain the possibility that there’s another honest way of living – at least not for her. But how far would she go to protect her carefully structured identity? And if not apologetic, is she vindictive towards those who she believes set her on the lying path? 

In coming weeks, I’ll be on stage for improv again and am sorely tempted to bring to life on stage some of these irascible, weirdly bewildered characters – I can imagine Katie, in a Grace Kelly scarf patiently explaining herself to a reporter with mounting anxiety. Brenda could easily appear on a bus, riding along in silence and needing a retreat from the world with to trouble her. I wonder if McCormack would be willing to let me let these dogsbodies onto the stage- or if they are better kept in a jar, in a lab, underground, and away from the light of day.