Hemmings’ (You Never Die in Wholes, 2012, etc.) collection offers a grab bag of short, eccentric tales, from the truly disturbing to the comical and even gleefully bizarre.
Readers will know what they’re getting into with the opening story, “The Man with the Crocodile Eyes.” It features 17-year-old Carly willingly basking in the warmth of a Cadillac owned by the reptilian-eyed titular character with a crooked arm who, as it happens, may not be the most outlandish part of the tale. Subsequent stories boast a sci-fi flavor (game programmer Oolong tries rescuing his virtual friend, Pilaf, in “Digisolution”) or suspense-driven alternative history (“Who Killed Sal Mineo?” follows the Rebel Without a Cause actor in his final days, leading up to his murder). Hemmings’ prior credits include works of prose and poetry, and much of the collection reads like vignettes more than fully developed stories—so he easily fits 36 into a relatively short book. “Mingus Hard,” for example, is rife with otherworldly details. An agency enlists Mingus to locate a bomb in the city, but lyrical descriptions make it difficult to decipher real from imaginary or metaphorical: Mingus “is kidnapped by a woman hard-wired to Electra-chain need.…She loves to intimidate by sketching hypothetical lives with accusative tones.” Likewise, many of the characters are wonderfully kooky, including dolls in “Women of Straw” or the animated at odds with Still Life in “Still World.” The best, however, is Mr. BubbleHead, highlighted in a series of misadventures, in which he braves a ride with a reckless cabbie (“Mr. BubbleHead Has an Exciting Day”) and, well…(“Mr. BubbleHead Loses His Head”). In spite of any peculiarities, a few stories are endearingly sincere. In “The Birds of Averrone,” for one, the narrator prays to “a select breed of air dwellers” to save him from his abusive father. Similarly, “The Killing Floor,” about contestants enduring a grueling 12-day dance marathon, is surprisingly delightful in its focus on just-matched couple Maggie and decidedly older Tom. The closing “Another Zombie Tale” encapsulates the collection: the recognizable (zombies) with the newfangled (waiting and hoping the zombie outbreak will merely pass).
Stories that are irreverent just as often as they’re unnerving—and sometimes a bit of both.