In his second collection of short stories, Bradford (Dogwalker, 2001, etc.) delights with surprising tales of young men and women struggling to connect.
The title story sets the tone in just a few pages: While trying to impress friends with an ill-advised dive into a river, Otto badly injures himself when he collides with a turtle. Absurd enough, yes, but Bradford doesn’t stop there, and the story morphs into one of rehabilitation—not only Otto’s, but also the injured turtle’s. These stories move quickly and turn strange corners: Each one is like a guy who's torn off his clothes and decided to run through an office building. A story about a man taking a one-armed woman on a date becomes the story of a dead cat. A story about two strangers on a drive becomes the story of a burned kitchen and incinerated eyebrows. You get the idea. Underpinning each piece, though, however chaotic its construction may seem, is Bradford’s sensitivity to his characters. He loves these people, even as they make horrible decisions and form complicated (and sometimes self-destructive) bonds. The collection’s best story might be “Snakebite,” in which a man with the titular affliction nearly dies at a stranger’s wedding only to find Jesus and become the life of the party. The story moves swiftly and has a lot of action, but it’s the quiet moments that resonate: a misplaced kiss, a borrowed tie. Bradford has a great sense of the ways in which people reach out for one another. If there’s a flaw, it’s that the stories occasionally feel overly busy, and this busyness drowns out the heartbeats of the characters—but then there’s another crisis, another laugh, and any complaints get swallowed up by the messiness of life.
A jazzy, anarchic collection.