A collection features a mix of fantasy and coming-of-age stories.
In his introduction, Neill (The Magus, 2016, etc.) explains a legend from his childhood about the Bunny Man, an asylum patient who’d been abandoned in the nearby woods when the institution closed. The episode evolved among teens to describe a crazy hermit who hoarded rabbits and lured kids to their deaths. This imagery draws readers into a series of elegiac tales, half of which star one of two young men, Sidney and Daniel. In stories like “Vespers,” about a fishing trip that forces Daniel to trespass on a supposedly haunted island, and “Quarry,” in which Sidney decides to jump a car into a lake, boyhood is left behind for the harder realities of manhood. “Verities” and “Tyra’s Story,” about the impermanence and unpredictability of love, further explore manhood while addressing religion (specifically Roman Catholicism) and death. Fantasy-tinged entries that offer levity include “Oral Composition,” about a young man whose penchant for biting celebrated artworks makes him famous, and “The Houseguest,” featuring the devil himself as he crashes on a hedge fund manager’s couch. The strangest vignette, “Milk Money,” describes a milk drinking contest in all its gross-out glory. Neill frequently wears his cynicism on his sleeve, as when perfect student Maria Lofton “killed herself with Prozac and a bottle of champagne” while wearing her homecoming dress, leaving a note saying, “Isn’t it obvious.” Yet at the collection’s core are the same themes that make his Elk Riders fantasy novels so rewarding, albeit presented through the greasy lens of young adulthood. The author is deeply fond of outcasts—like David Palmer, war enthusiast—and the sanctity of nature, seen in the passage “Vesper Island...loomed large in my imagination. I could picture the trees, with their cobwebbed branches disturbed by the occasional breeze, which carried the stench of carrion.” Neill’s humor is far left of center, as when God appears in court looking not like “George Burns, Morgan Freeman, or Alanis Morissette” but “a vagrant” who’s been picking through the trash.
Addictive tales that read smoothly while aiming for the gut.