A short fiction collection tells stories of gangsters, dead writers, zombies, and other malcontents.
A famously short-tempered mobster hoping to finish his college degree goes to collect a debt he’s owed, only to realize that his bookie has been scamming his boss. An aspiring poet gets some encouragement from the ghost of Dylan Thomas in a park, who explains to him how whiskey was the key to his success. Fifty years after he and his grandfather fired a coffee can containing one of his teeth at the moon, an Iowa farmer gets a surprise in the form of a familiar-looking meteor. The children of a dead toy manufacturer squabble over his estate, though they find that the gifts he left them might not be as valuable as they thought. In this collection of 13 tales, O’Keefe (Shot to Pieces, 2016) offers contemporary fables full of outlandish premises and ironic twists. Several of the stories are violent cautionary tales, like “Buried Hatchet,” which follows an overly zealous Brooklyn hit man whose signature method of killing comes back to haunt him: “He used it until he thought he had elevated it to an art form. But his growing fascination led to over-use. Over-use leads to mistakes. The rising blood-lust prevented Gustav from appreciating as much.” At their best—such as “Sal’s Way,” about a stubborn and overconfident electrician—the stories have the feel of well-told street jokes. Some are quite imaginative, like “The Siwanoy Take Back The Bronx,” in which a Native American curse causes the denizens of that borough (including the New York Yankees) to go on a murderous rampage. But the author’s sense of humor is highly gruesome, and sometimes the punishment his characters receive feels incommensurate for their mistakes. (In one work, O’Keefe has his own daughter murdered in an unmarked college bathroom to punctuate an extended discussion of the Mandela Effect.) While the enjoyment of these tales will mostly come down to readers’ tastes, the fairly formulaic structure of the stories makes the reading experience rather monotonous after a while.
A brash, gory, and often fantastical volume of tales that will likely polarize readers.