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by Ted Sanders

Pub Date: July 3rd, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-55597-616-3
Publisher: Graywolf

It’s not the animals, but the clueless humans who dominate this amorphous story collection, the author’s debut.

Of the ten stories (and two short flights of fancy), the longest, "Airbag," has been split into three nonconsecutive segments. It’s about a midget, Dorlene, who claims to be the seventh shortest person in the country. She’s described almost exclusively in terms of her size; that’s reductive, offensively so. She’s been brought to a party at a farm outside Seattle; she’s a former student of Tom, the host. Dorlene’s no higher than crotch level (cue the oral-sex joke). Tom has a truly enormous dog, which he’s forgotten to shut away; it looms over Dorlene, who’s so panicked she wets herself. The ending will not be pleasant. There is more foolishness in the next longest story: "Putting the Lizard to Sleep." A 5-year-old’s pet lizard loses part of its tail and has to be euthanized by the vet. John, the father, had been hoping to retrieve the dead lizard: “I wanted him to see what dead is.” But the lizard’s already been cremated, so John and his live-in girlfriend pretend they have the dead lizard in a box (it’s actually a sausage link). The ponderously delivered moral is that lying to kids doesn’t work. The other stories are even less developed. "Opinion of Person" is a study of anomie. Two housemates are united by their loathing of a cat, whose owner is away at work. James, in "Momentary," has lost his hand in an act of self-mutilation. He’s under observation in a mental hospital, yet there are no insights into his condition. "The Lion" is just as wispy. A wheelchair-bound woman has made a lion out of fabric. Will it be a Frankenstein’s monster? Who knows? And who knows what’s going on in "Jane," between the ghost and her sleeping ex-lover? As Sanders writes elsewhere, “Confusion burbles thickly.”

An awkward start.