A debut collection of nine very odd tales that stretch the bounds of storytelling—in a youthful vision that already seems too big for the britches of the short story.
Almost everything is unusual here. “Teen Sniper” is a miniature cautionary tale/satire about a teenage career sniper’s awkwardness with all things in life not related to sanctioned murder and his personal license to kill; “Your Own Backyard” is about a father who works as a security-guard/angel-of-death at a zoo, attempting to understand his son; and in a sublime second-person treatise on grief, “The Death-Dealing Cassini Satellite,” a boy drives a bus for a women’s cancer support group founded by his now-dead mother. Another slightly futuristic vision is “Trauma Plate,” about a family trying to sustain an idea of family while they operate a mom-and-pop bulletproof-vest rental mart in a strip mall. Johnson’s unique premises, hybrids of realism and allegory, blends of pedestrian, pop, and the bizarre, create unnerving moods. Prepare for zoo murder, airborne intercourse, stunt flying over Louisiana, and a visit to the dark side of the moon. The author is at his best when these premises drive his quirky aesthetic and prose, rather than the other way around. The most evolved of the tales is “The Canadanaut,” a story set in the 1960s that nevertheless feels like science fiction, about a team of Canadian scientists who are working to identify the sympathetic nature of the universe and in the meantime send a French-speaking, masturbating, bobsledding trapper on a moonshot. It’s the sad abandon of these stories that makes them work, a recollection of times when “There’s the boxy loop of youth, a decade that leaves your ears ringing with television and loneliness.”
The weirdest possible blend of Kenneth Patchen, Max Apple, and Tom Clancy. Certainly a vision that should be put under close surveillance.