If you’re an admirer of David Lynch movies, you won’t want to miss this surpassingly bizarre debut collection—the work of a young Virginia writer and (as it happens) filmmaker.
It takes its time getting to you. A few of the 12 “stories” are little more than in-your-face fragments: “The Texas School for the Blind” and “South for the Winter,” for example, seem to be ideas left insufficiently developed. But even in the fuller narratives, Bradford’s unnamed first-person narrators are misfits without visible means of support or discernible moral natures—like the slacker protagonist of “Catface,” who passively relates his mistreatment by a succession of grand mal–eccentric apartment mates; or the just-barely-bemused visitor to “The House of Alan Matthews,” where a dope dealer keeps an acquaintance locked in a crawlspace. Stories in which Bradford gives his deranged imagination room to roam about are invariably better: a lurid cautionary tale about an intemperate loner (“Bill McQuill”) who lives too close to the railroad tracks; a Harry Crews–like yarn in which a dimwitted “practitioner . . . of chainsaw tricks” meets the masochist of his dreams; and “Roslyn’s Dog,” a dark and perfectly controlled fable of captivity and metamorphosis. Man’s best friend in fact pads confidently throughout Bradford’s cartoonlike lunar landscapes—nowhere more memorably than in the collection’s pièce de résistance “Dogs,” which begins when its narrator cheats on his girlfriend with her bitch (yes, literally), and gathers to its monstrous bosom a singing “muskrat,” a pregnant woman in an iron lung, and a canine barbershop quartet, the whole coalescing into a frenzied parable of paternity and unbelonging that’s one of the most eerily original American stories to come down the pike since the heyday of Flannery O’Connor.
Lovers of Lassie, Come Home should be forewarned—but more adventurous readers may find Bradford’s uniquely daring and provocative stories well worth their attention. (His first film, How’s Your News?, is scheduled to air on HBO this summer.)