Sad sacks, troubadours, and other beautiful losers populate this debut collection of short stories by YA novelist Beaudoin (Wise Young Fool, 2013, etc.).
About half the tales in Beaudoin’s
quiver have some real grit, like Springsteen or Bob Seger songs written about
the travails of Gen X–ers back in the golden days of flannel. That vibe is
better than it sounds but it’s too often derailed by postmodern sarcasm and
juvenile wit. The first two stories are pretty typical Midwestern Americana. In
“Nick in Nine (9) Movements,” we follow a guy who thinks he’s going to grow up
to be Slash (and doesn’t). In “The Rescues,” we pretty much meet the same
Everyman, here finding his humanity in helping people fix their beater cars. Things
take a darker turn in “Hey Monkey Chow,” mostly about a guy who has a near-miss
sexual encounter with his adopted sister. “It’s weird how almost everyone does
the worst thing, every time,” Beaudoin writes. “Gives in to their essential
natures without thought or complaint. Our little brains suckered in by the
first shiny thing. And then, when we have a chance not to be, a real and
obvious chance to prove we’re actually half-human, still fuck it up.” In these
and other tales, there’s also a perplexing and persistent immaturity that
probably works well in the author’s novels but less so here. Only in “You Too
Can Graduate in Three Years with a Degree in Contextual Semiotics” do we see a
real portrayal of adulthood, and it ultimately finds its protagonist pining for
the one that got away. Just to show he still has some tricks up his sleeve,
Beaudoin slips in a mickey with “Base Omega Has Twelve Dictates,” a really
funny satire of teen dystopian fiction.
A clever but uneven story collection that reads a bit like a present-day Replacements concert: you never know from page to page if you’re going to get the melancholy poet or the drunken joker.