HOW TO BEST AVOID DYING by Owen Egerton

HOW TO BEST AVOID DYING

Stories

KIRKUS REVIEW

Spoiler alert: Although plenty of characters survive these 21 stories, there’s no obvious prescription that fulfills the promise of the collection’s title.

Some storytellers are realists, some fantasists. Egerton (Everyone Says That at the End of the World, 2013, etc.) starts most of these tales in the guise of an earnest regionalist before swerving into unknown, comically unsettling depths. Sometimes the movement from realism to fantasy is as sudden as the springing of the trapdoor that awaits the losers of the spelling bee in “Spelling” or the rage that overtakes a father trying to assemble his daughter’s Christmas presents in “Arnie’s Gift.” Sometimes the journey is more gradual, as in the narrator’s increasingly dissociated odyssey from California to Texas in “Of All Places” or the predictable rise and fall of the novelist in “The Fecalist,” who enlivens a party hosted by a friend who’s just trashed his latest book in a review by relieving himself on the offending copy of the New Yorker. And once in a while, the premise itself is crazy, as in “Lazarus Dying,” which shows the tribulations of Lazarus after his recalling to life. Egerton, bless him, is equally at home writing about Jesus camps (“The Martyrs of Mountain Peak” and “Heart Thong”) and penises that are more than just phallic appendages (“Pierced” and “Lord Baxter Ballsington”).

The stories that begin with the most surreal premises—the melding of man and squirrel in “The Beginning of All Things,” the hero’s irrational fears in “The Adventures of Stimp”—are more piquant than gripping, but the sudden descents from domesticity into madness in “Christmas” and “Tonight at Noon” manage to be at once creepy and disturbingly funny.

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-59376-522-4
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2014




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