Edgy writing in an unnerving collection of short fiction.
The title sets the tone for these stories, as each confronts some facet of inappropriate behavior, whether in the reader’s opinion or in the judgment of posterity. Several of the stories focus on historical figures before they gained their notoriety, people we would most likely not want to encounter in daily life. Lee Harvey Oswald is here, as is John Hinckley Jr., the attempted assassin of President Ronald Regan. David Ferrie, the odd informant tied by some to the JFK conspiracy, also makes a visit in the hallucinations of a damaged high school girl. Though well-done, the best of the lot are those created from pure imagination. Farish works best when he is left to his own devices. "Ready for Schmelling" is a strange and humorous account of life in a large corporation that touches the absurd and hints of Kafka. He mixes farcical comedy in "The Thing about Norfolk" with true anguish in the disappointment of small-town life in "Mayflies." Violence haunts these pages, and insanity is the ghost in the machine. The titular story is almost a tour de force on the state of young American families facing unemployment, medical costs, the inability of social institutions to handle specific human problems, and the anxiety of coping with a behaviorally disturbed son in the face of all these obstacles. Almost. Its penultimate section is a steady barrage of questions about life and substance in America that generates frightening momentum as it moves over several pages. Stop there. It loses its punch with the actual ending.
This collection of stories is intriguing but misses as standout fiction through uneven writing and trying too hard to be oddly curious.