Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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There are forty-five pieces here—flash fiction, most of them, though depending on your typology some might stretch out to what you could just call stories—each of them hanging on a hook, ending with that flourish, that spin, like the flick of an illusionist’s wrist or the torque of English a well-hit billiard ball takes on. Like the ricochet, too, of a cleverly plotted pool shot, these pieces exhibit a practiced mechanics; they hinge on the hook, but they are themselves means of delivery for riffs on fables and familiar bedtime tales, for quick and quirky parodies of scripture and threatening little sketches about monsters and heroes and the distinctions between. One one-sentence routine puts the Bride of Frankenstein in the well-worn spouse-standing-by-her-man-in-the-wake-of-the-sex-scandal pose. A slightly longer piece delves into rape revenge fantasy in the social media age, weaponizing the gaze. Other stories have more traditional trolls, and lonely kids, sad mermaids, and metastasizing seas of snakes. In one piece, a kid who “didn’t have many friends,” spends much of his summer
sitting by the edge of the well, talking, telling stories and jokes to the Well Monster. I’d bring out a radio so we could listen to baseball games. I’d describe girls from my school and tell him which ones I liked and whether I thought maybe they might like me back. I’d look up at the clouds to tell him what I saw. It had been so long since he’d seen clouds.
The thing about the particular type of hook endemic to this collection—that particular flare on the ball, that particular snap of the wrist—is that it is predictable, or, better put, it exists more than half in anticipation, sensed in advance, with increasing suspense, such that it’s felt before it’s seen. We know the monster will invite the boy down, we know a reversal is coming, from the start of a given tale, a disappointment or a reveal, a merging of categories (x is y, all along!) a rupture from the dream sequence or an acknowledgement that everything hereafter is all sleep. The narrative satisfaction to such form is well known, presumably pretty ancient, likely universal among our species. How we should feel about the way such twisting tales make us feel, however, is a different sort of question, one explicitly framed by DeWan as political, in an Afterword in which he asks, “But is this book an homage to daydreams or an indictment of them?” going on to articulate an argument not in favor of escape but, rather, in favor of the potentially transformative “longing to escape.” His thoughts here, this post-collection reflection, serve as the book’s final hook, its final reversal, calling everything that came before into question, casting a new, sharper light on all those small, seemingly frivolous tales. It is the cleverest plot twist here.
Official Christopher DeWan Web Site
Official Atticus Books Web Site