Twenty-four semiexistential short stories that have appeared in the likes of McSweeney’s and Selected Shorts from Colombia-born writer Martinez.
The author has an interesting way of injecting absurdity into everyday life and humor into the phantasmagorical in this wide-ranging, mostly engaging collection of tall tales. The first story, “Roadblock,” tells of a spinster aunt who keeps setting the narrator’s things on fire. A few are merely dashed-off entertainments, like the poetic but aimless “Strangers on Vacation: Snapshots” or “Your Significant Other’s Kitten Poster.” “Machulín in L.A." finds an aspiring filmmaker narrating a strange run-in with the bride at a wedding. It doesn’t end well: “That’s it. They’re married. Bastards.” The strange, heavily Russian-accented narrator of “Customer Service at the Karaoke Don Quixote” is later explained in the final story, “Best Worst American.” In the meantime, readers can be entertained by events at the most literary karaoke bar ever: “First we start with Don Quixote. But soon we branch to postmodernist stuff, because customers want, and customers is always accurate: They say, Barth! Barthelme! Pynchon! Coover! We say, OK. We say, is good.” But there are also occasional moments of grace, like this from the end of one of the autobiographical-sounding stories, “Souvenirs from Ganymede”: “These are ancillary mysteries. They are peripheral to the business of living but crucial, because they keep us going. They’re part of the mystery train, the threads tying us together, the ghosts of fingerprints: they are at the heart of beauty. They are light falling in certain rooms on certain mornings.” Some are just flat-out funny; “The Lead Singer is Distracting Me” finds a Keith Richards–like guitarist pondering a different life. Martinez even makes the frightening funny, as in “The Spooky Japanese Girl is There for You,” in which a Ringu-like wraith becomes an almost pedestrian nuisance.
An uneven but promising debut collection of short stories, some unique in their execution.