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MEAN-SPIRITED TALES by Sandee Harris

MEAN-SPIRITED TALES

By Sandee Harris

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 2012

Harris’ debut collects 17 short “mean-spirited tales” that largely deal with the difficulties of satisfaction—both sexual and artistic.

Advertised with the tagline “Stories for those unafraid to look,” Harris’s stories follow lost characters as they largely fail to find themselves. In “Dilapidated,” heavy-drinking Bridget gets emotionally involved with a man whom she tells us is wrong for her. Per the book’s title, this template recurs several times. But strange little details enliven the telling: To show solidarity with the tooth-missing man, Bridget removes and waves her own temporary tooth. Although not blatantly comical, Harris’s stories are sometimes tinged with a macabre sense of humor, the sort of humor that appreciates vengeful ghosts striking down visitors through the use of a UPS truck, as in “Death Metal \m/.” While that story takes an unusual dip toward the supernatural, it features hallmarks of Harris’s storytelling: a hard-drinking female protagonist who wants to be an artist, even though she has difficulty at work. Many of these stories also share an episodic, seemingly intentional incompleteness—a certain type of conclusion not uncommon in the American literary short story. For example, a New Yorker (a painter manqué) twice runs into a woman who seems “not in synch” with her surroundings, and then the story ends (“Kill Her”); a robbery is planned and partly executed, and the story ends (“The Robbery”); and in the three-page-long screenplay-styled “The Best Daaaamn Yogurt,” a “pseudo French Canadian gremlin” uses her magic dust to avoid paying for her favorite yogurt, with hints about the gremlin’s non-gremlin family life, but not much depth on the page. At times, this jagged incompleteness can be stirring, as it captures something of the serendipity of urban, drunken life. Elsewhere, though, the lacuna seems to be less meaningful.

An occasionally intriguing but imperfect collection.