Small, kooky stories exploring the absurdity and sadness of relationships.
Midway through this wide-ranging collection, Hurt (editor: Watchlist: 32 Stories By Persons of Interest, 2016) includes a story called “Panic Attack.” In it, a writer named Bryan Hurt has a conversation with two literary editors who urge him to write more “regular” stories that are “true true. The kind of truth that builds a nest in your heart, lays eggs, and two weeks later little baby truth birds hatch out.” That Hurt scoffs at the idea that “time travel, zombies, [and] ghosts ” can’t tell deep human truths is evident from reading all the stories before “Panic Attack,” which are about those very things. Hurt, in fact, delights in the wacky premise. In “Contract,” we learn that CEOs are able to climb the ladder as the result of human sacrifice. “Seagull” features a boy whose past life as a sea gull makes it difficult for him to relate to others. Other stories explore the melancholy of being merely the fourth man to walk on the moon (“The Fourth Man”) or the strange changes that come over a group of children when they enroll in French immersion school (“The Bilingual School”). Often, Hurt is able to achieve just the kind of “true” truth he contemplates in just a few pages, though the collection’s standout tale, “My Other Car Drives Itself,” about a Google employee working through disasters at work and home, is also one of the longest. But the stories, so often about men who are at best caddish and at worst cruel, can sometimes hit sour notes, too. When the jaunty style juxtaposes with loutish characters, the effect can make the readers feel some sympathy for those impatient editors.
A collection that veers from the exhilarating to the exasperating.