Callahan offers a debut book of brief works that’s strange but undeniably unique.
It’s an odd fit to call this a collection of short stories. The tales have no rising action as they build to a natural conclusion or some sort of twist; indeed, there’s not much action at all. Instead, the stories are abstract and exist mostly as the interior monologues of particular characters. Many don’t contain much dialogue at all, and what’s there is handled with dashes and infrequent attributions, rather than traditional quotation marks. In “A Gift,” the first story of the bunch, Callahan knocks readers off-kilter from the first line, “The narrator was in pain,” but never explains why this person is called “the narrator.” A first-person voice is added later, meaning that the character of “the narrator” isn’t the narrator of this particular story. Characters are often in some sort of existential crisis and sometimes obsess over well-known, real-world people, such as author Rick Moody or professional basketball player Dirk Nowitzki, whose lives then become part of the narrative. The one constant in these tales, however, appears to be pain itself. The main character in “Cymbalta,” for example, seeks out Moody as a life coach and writes to him of his own struggles with his self-image, his drinking, and even his bowel movements. Readers will find pathos and humor in these exchanges. Too often, though, the prose seems impenetrable. Readers must buy into Callahan’s stream-of-consciousness style from the beginning for the tales to have any impact. He writes in great waves of clauses, sometimes stretching a single sentence over a couple of pages, and there are also times when the stories try too hard to be clever and fall flat. “The Great Challenges the Good to a Duel: Pistols, Dawn,” for example, beats the cliché “the great is the enemy of the good” into the ground by anthropomorphizing “great” and “good” and having them fight it out for 12 pages.
An obtuse collection with flashes of genuine fun and humanity.