Genre: Short Stories
First Line: Mawmaw's throwing the party, and her own son is three hours late.
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I'm so happy I read this book of short stories! I was really close to not reading it. Want to know why? The cover was too good. Yup. Luckily I changed my mind about not reading it after looking more into it. These stories were weird and often moving. Even when they get really surreal, deep down they're about people and their relationships with each other. AND the stories are (mostly) all interconnected very sneakily, which I always love. Here were my favorites:
1. Shirley Temple Three
A man works for a tv show where they clone long-extinct creatures from their DNA. Due to some strange rules, if they accidentally clone two, they have to kill one of them. But instead of killing an extra dwarf wooly mammoth, he sneaks it home to his mother in the south. She keeps it in her back yard. She's frustrated with the situation, but at no point is this like the weirdest thing that will ever happen to anyone ever. Watching the woman's relationship with the mammoth and her son really affected me.
2. The Real Alan Gass
I brought the synopsis of this up at work and it sparked a lot of debate. In it, a physicist alerts her boyfriend that in her dreams she has a husband. And it isn't him. His name is Alan Gass, and he doesn't exist in real life. The dreams are really vivid, to the point where she is practically just living another life with another man in her sleep. Of course, she wants her boyfriend to be cool about it. And he tries to be cool, but he can't help himself from grabbing a phone book and trying to find out if Alan Gass is out there somewhere, dreaming about his girlfriend. Very bizarre. I would not be cool, for the record.
3. Grasshopper Kings
I liked this one a whole lot. A father brings his son to a Boy Scouts-esque camping trip, only to learn that this group is a little bit cult-ish. I was so in. Even though this story is weird and kind of creepy, it's more about the strained relationship between the father and son, as well as how humans relate to each other in group dynamics.
4. Videos of People Falling Down
This story is so clever, I can hardly stand it. This story consists of many small segments that each start with a class youtube falling video name like "CRAZY WIPE OUT FUNNY" (not a direct quote, but you get what I mean). In each, a person falls. But we also get to know them and see what was going on in their lives and their heads around the time of the fall. It's hard to think about the stars of videos like these as real people with real concerns, and this story highlighted that excellently. And all the falls are interconnected, YES.
5. More Soon
A man comes to the airport to pick up the body of his dead brother that was just shipped overseas to him. Much to his surprise, the body wasn't on the plane. It turns out that it had to be reexamined. Then eventually quarantined, because they believe it holds a deadly disease. When it starts killing doctors and scientists who come in contact with it, it's classified as a biological weapon. An interesting look at and interpretation of grief and family.
My only issue with these wonderfully strange stories was that a lot of them just kind of stopped. Not an enormous amount of clear resolution. I think that was mostly frustrating to me for two reasons. 1) I felt like it was probably profound in some way, but I didn't have the energy to figure out in what way it was profound. 2) I really just did not want these stories to end.
"Inside every group, he decides, there are more groups. Circles within circles, and inside of those, more circles still, all of them infinitely divisible. You could spend your whole life wondering which ones you're in and which ones you're not and which ones really want you and which ones are holes that have no bottom." - 79, Grasshopper Kings
"Sometimes when he hears Hungarian Dance No. 5 he has a funny feeling that is difficult to explain to others. He's told only one or two people about it. The feeling involves the possibility of a past life." -144, Videos of People Falling Down
"Directly behind us in line, a man with a comb-over fished around in his neon green fanny pack and produced two Wetnaps, one for himself and one for his wife, a somber-looking woman in a zebra-print dress that I gathered she had picked out specifically for this excursion. I watched them unfold their antibacterial napkins with care and scrub every inch of the hands--palms, fingers, creases, wrinkles, even up past the wrists. Watching them groom was exhausting. All of this was exhausting." -224, Hall of Small Mammals
Outlandishness Rating: 8/10