Romantics, killers, and animals populate Schwartz’s (Enchanting the Swan, 2018, etc.) sundry collection of short stories.
This book opens with “The Flatfooters,” in which a Virginia traffic accident involves steel balls smashing through windshields and jellyfish affixed to victims’ faces. Authorities are confused but on high alert when it appears to be a bizarre terrorist attack. Schwartz opts for variety among his stories, and the remaining 11 dabble in myriad genres. In “Leave Flying to the Birds,” for example, two friends fly home on their private jet to Virginia after a fishing trip and face an unforeseen danger. A later tale, the Kafka-esque “Mother Centipede,” is full-fledged horror—a gleefully grotesque tale of an insect bite growing orange hairs, seeping orange pus, and more. There are also murders in these tales, seen from various viewpoints. A piano player is a murder suspect in “The Medium,” and is determined to clear his name, while in the exhilarating “Killing the Elephant Poacher,” a former French Foreign Legionnaire is now an assassin with a target in the Central African Republic. The various stories do, however, have some intriguing similarities, as many heavily feature animals. “From the Horse’s Mouth” is from the perspective of a colt who isn’t fond of a tactless horsewoman. The lighthearted “Attic Ghosts Talking,” which concerns chatty squirrels looking for shelter, serves as a sequel to an earlier story. The author’s prose is sharp but conversational, and the dry humor makes truly strange events seem perfectly normal. “The Heliphone,” for instance, presents a phone that connects the living with people in the afterlife, which is played for comedy.
A diverse set of witty and entertaining tales.