A first collection of 20 stories tries to make black humor out of macabre jokes, surreal grotesqueries, and the underbelly of life. While a few succeed, transforming seaminess into blue-collar blues, most fall flat—wet dreams and nightmares not yet shaped sufficiently. The title story, written in three parts, is typical. In the first part, Bill (``no marriage, no job'') loiters through his life until he finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time— holding a spent shotgun after happening upon a convenience-store murder—and gets blown away by the cops; in the second section, written in uncapitalized modified stream-of-consciousness, a drunk Vietnam vet beats up his daughter, causing his wife to leave him, whereupon the vet retreats to his basement and takes potshots at cops until, surrounded, he kills himself; the last part is written in black dialect, another take on the underside of life. Too often such material is delivered in an unexceptional style and the dialogue fails to ring true, but Christian has a flair for overlaying his modern bombed-out world with an effective futuristic patina: ``The place [convenience store] was manned by people who spoke in a barely intelligible modern dialect...The prototype of a new language. A language to be used when humans lived in metal spheres buried beneath the blasted surface of the world.'' Some of the pieces, in fact, have a Rod Serling-like twist: in ``The Mobile,'' a sculptor noted for such masterworks as ``Roadkill'' (``a mobile constructed of the animal carcasses he had collected'') arranges for a customer (and ex-lover) to pick up his latest piece: himself, hanging dead from a rope in his studio. That sort of thing has a certain punch to it, but as a collection, this one—despite some fine gritty detail and several sharp portraits of the down-and-out or the merely mean—too soon punches itself out.
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