Disaster is the rule in this aptly titled, darkly comic debut collection.
From Kenya and India to the Deep South and Fire Island, Watkins’s 12 stories deal with coming of age, at any age. He has a gift for making the improbable totally believable. In “Critterworld,” three brainy boys plot to kill a roadside elephant only to have it die of natural causes and land on a VW, trapping a little girl inside; the zany plot works because each character, including the elephant, is given a strong personality. When a widower spending the summer in a town called Kismet comes upon a drowned man washed up on the beach in “Bocky-Bocky,” it somehow seems probable that Sam would fold the man’s body into a yoga position called “the Corpse.” And when Uma Thurman, another yoga devotee, jogs over, her baseball cap pulled low on her forehead, what else could she possibly do other than help Sam pretzel the dead man into more positions, all the while prattling on about the corpse’s flexibility in her thick New York accent? Though hilarious, the story also touches on Sam’s grief for his wife and his banishment from his teenage daughter’s private world. The author’s work always conveys something of the absurd. In “Kafka’s Sister,” a failed social activist goes to an ashram in India and nearly kills himself by fasting, giving away his food to children who rob him. In the title story, a boy whose father died in a car accident decides that the definition of human kindness is old Mr. Montford allowing him to get a head start out of the junkyard (where he was looking at the wreckage of his father’s car) before sending the dogs after him.
Entertaining and gripping.