A collection presents short stories depicting modern life in surreal terms.
Atkinson (The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes, 2014) packs 23 stories, rarely beyond 10 pages in length, into this slim volume. In “Home Improvement,” a man discovers that his house, possibly feeling neglected, has just gotten up and left him; he stoically moves on in diminished circumstances, like any recently divorced man. In “Happy Trails,” a heartbroken, semiamnesiac guy who has evidently tried to commit suicide with a gun—and failed—tries to clean up the mess (including the brains blown out of his head) and keep up appearances. In “The Onion She Carried,” a businesswoman visits her refrigerator and determines it to be an “onion day”; everything thereafter is determined by and weighed against the vegetable she brings with her. In “The Unknowable Agenda of Ursines,” the first-person narrator encounters a talking bear in a gambling casino; the animal challenges him to a game of blackjack as a civilized way of working out a grudge. In the closer, “Up, Up, and No Way,” a guy granted the miraculous power to fly is also afflicted with a crippling angst that prevents him from actually staying airborne (“He had the power to fly, but not the ability. Every time he tried, the fear would pounce on him. The harder he tried to overcome it, the more crushing the fear became”). Most of the tales have been previously published in small literary journals. They consistently reflect an absurdist point of view of contemporary existence, where goofy and ridiculous events happen, often diametrically opposed to logic, just for the sake of causing trouble—yet in circumstances that seem oddly relatable. Sometimes the joke gets a little old even in the space of a slight word count (“An Account of the Great Toilet Paper War of 2012”). But generally one is reminded of the more satirical pieces by H.H. “Saki” Munro from a century ago, and that is good company indeed.
A volume offers daft—and oftentimes deft—madcap short fiction.