Review by Tess Tabak
Josh Denslow’s debut short story collection delves into the lives of young misfits. The stories are mostly narrated by young men who feel like outcasts for one reason or another. The stories are a bit uneven, but each is memorably odd. In one story, for example, a short man working as a Santa’s elf struggles with whether to do the right thing when he has a chance to mow down Santa.
In one of my favorite stories, “Mousetrap,” a man who cleans up grisly deaths for a living struggles with his own mortality. “I want to find a not scary way to tell my sister that I’m contemplating killing myself, but I don’t want her to think that it has to do with the fact that she asked me to start paying rent,” the narrator writes, quipping about his own depression. The story is a little rough around the edges but the narrator’s matter-of-factness about his depression feels real.
Some of the stories come off as a little gimmicky. In one, Denslow imagines a future society where all violence is limited to a set number of Punch Vouchers a year. It’s ostensibly a story about how inheriting a number of these vouchers from a deceased friend turns the narrator into a Cool Guy, but the story felt a bit more like a funny concept the author thought of and reverse-engineered into a narrative. In another, a boy can teleport, but only to a limited degree – it really knocks the wind out of him. He uses this limited power to spy on and harass his mother’s new boyfriend. It’s hard to put my finger on what I felt dissatisfied about with this story – Denslow’s writing is fine, and the story is reasonably engaging, but it doesn’t invoke much emotion, and it isn’t quite funny enough to work as a humor piece. It’s lightly amusing, but not exactly groundbreaking.
While none of these stories particularly stand out on their own, this is a charming collection from a new author. I look forward to reading Denslow’s next collection.