Rutkowski returns with his characteristic blend of anomie and epigram.
This collection of autobiographical short-short stories is divided into three sections, roughly covering four stages that could be labeled Childhood, College, City Life and Fatherhood/Maturity. The author’s fictional alter ego, also named Thaddeus, is of Chinese/Polish heritage. His father, a Pennsylvania artist who never wants to live farther than walking distance from a bar, is later described by Thaddeus’ sister as abusive (not least because he paints eroticized pictures of her), but to Thaddeus he seems merely eccentric and manipulative. He teaches his children hunting (always consuming what they kill) and practical skills like window glazing (as punishment for breaking one). At his father’s insistence, a baffled Thaddeus reads the Polish epic poem Pan Tadeusz. Thaddeus’ gainfully employed Asian mother seems mostly bemused by her feckless husband’s rejection of bourgeois mores. In college, Thaddeus dabbles in life-drawing and experiments with marijuana, poetry and pyrotechnics. There is the usual assortment of weird roommates and missed, or never attempted, connections with the opposite sex. The City section is mainly devoted to Thaddeus’ sexual fetishes, which include hanging and bondage and culminate in a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting. In one of two funny stories set at artists’ retreats, the participants wax wistful about higher-echelon residencies, but the narrator seems content with “the rinky-dink place we were presently at.” Occasionally Thaddeus reconnects with his two younger siblings, who, in their own retrospective estimation, haven't coped as successfully with fallout from their atypical childhoods. His sister has trust issues with men, and his brother never found his career niche. The last stories, describing Thaddeus’ inexorable descent into a kind of besotted parenthood completely alien to his own upbringing, feel rather listless.
Rutkowski’s arch tone, language play and wacky nonsequiturs gloss over a world of hurt.