Thursday, June 09, 2011

Dogsbodies and Scumsters

Dogsbodies and Scumsters is a collection of Alan McCormick short stories written in two very different styles.  Dogsbodies, the longer, and to my mind, more effective, stories feature characters suffering from physical or mental defects serious enough to define their lives.   Scumsters, the short (often less than a page in length), almost stream-of-consciousness pieces are all based on the fanciful illustrations of Jonny Voss. 

Jonny Voss’s illustrations are so complicated and packed with detail that a good storyteller like Alan McCormick would have little problem with putting the images into words.  Those images, however, are so nonsensical that the resulting scumsters tend to be absurd to the point of making little sense.  Of course, that is probably exactly what the author and illustrator were going for – a flash of an image or feeling rather than anything resembling a straightforward storyline.  (I often found myself studying the sometimes Picasso-like illustrations to see what other stories they might tell me.)

The dogsbodies, on the other hand, do a remarkable job of developing a wide assortment of characters that live life the hard way, usually unhappily and, for the most part, alone.  In these longer stories, McCormick offers a wide assortment of fragile losers, people who have little going for them now, or perhaps ever before in their lives.  These characters (a widely assorted lot, including a woman who abandons her young daughter, an immigrant who emotionally terrorizes her husband’s family, a woman content to live with a neighbor’s dead body, a woman who intentionally makes her daughter ill, a female Walter Mitty who cannot keep her lies straight, and a builder that destroys his client’s property) are surprisingly sympathetic. 

These are stories about people who live in very dark places, even if those places are largely inside their own heads.  Their lives are intense, and that is style in which McCormick chooses to tell their stories.  There may be no “feel good” stories in Dogsbodies and Scumsters, but the collection is filled with the powerful stories of as unforgettable a cast of unfortunates as one is likely to encounter anywhere.

Rated: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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