Comic Southern writer’s debut collection presents a sardonic view of the tics and foibles of the odd, inept, unhappy and underemployed.
Pendarvis’s collection includes two tales focusing on superheroes, one fictitious literary catalogue, a made-up “contributors” section, a few letters to the editor and the titular novella, among other things. The result is a charming pastiche of Southern wit, with characters evoked through humorous asides and eccentric tendencies. Pendarvis adopts a dry-eyed, aw-shucks tone through consciously amateur writing, highlighting the characters’ endearing humanity even as it gently ribs them. “The Pipe” sets up a drama of Beckettian absurdity, as two characters, known only as “the security guard” and “the paramedic,” guard the air pipe that feeds a radio deejay buried alive as a promotional stunt. The deadbeat paramedic and the naïve though noble security guard have bizarre brushes with love, loneliness, sex, power and death, all in the service of someone who may or may not be at the pipe’s other end. The other standout piece is the novella, whose protagonist is an amateur historian attempting to pen the dreary story of his nowhere town, Newberry, after being fired from his job. His efforts and academic pretensions are hilariously inept, though he maintains an incongruent optimism as he suffers derision at home, lusts creepily after his young sister-in-law and encounters innumerable miscreants who mean him various degrees of harm. While the literary jabs found here are highly entertaining (one disgruntled reviewer of an invented book remarks, “Kirkus Reviews is going to eat this shit up”), it’s the depictions of fragile humanity and the subtle social critiques that are truly affecting.
Satire both hilarious and profound, peppered with a few near-misses that border on the glib.