Friday, September 23, 2011
Wonderfully nice words about my collection, DIRTY ONE, from Mr. Jerry L. Wheeler... THANK YOU!
One of the great joys of doing this blog is that occasionally I run across an author whose work I’ve never read before but grabs me almost immediately—seizing me by the throat and touring me around a twisted world I’ve never before experienced. Michael Graves is my latest demented tour guide and Dirty One, a collection of his short fiction, is a perfect gem of multi-faceted characters with flaws aplenty.
The young adults that populate Graves’ fiction are skewed, skittering through their adolescence with a drug- and demon-fueled intensity that leaves the reader breathless and aching to sit down with these poor kids to let them know that things do, indeed, get better. Still, the kids are only following the examples of their even more fucked up parents, most of whom have no business having kids in the first place. But the drama… The drama is delicious and makes for some of the finest reading I’ve had in months.
The nine stories comprising this slim, power-packed volume mostly take place in the suburb of Leominster, MA and while they don’t all have the same characters, they all have the same odd American Gothic feel of alienation and separation. For example, the opening story, “Comb City” features eight-year-old Philip, separated from his mother and his birth city because his celebrity father needs a place to recover from recent plastic surgery away from the paparazzi. Philip, of course, acts out—much to the dismay of his neighbor’s cat. In the sly “From Kissing,” a sixth-grader named Butch, who loves making friendship bracelets with his cousin Sherrie, goes to the monster truck rally with Milo, who slips Butch his first tongue kiss. When Butch comes down with the flu, he’s convinced Milo has given him AIDS. From the vaguely creepy “Bath Time” to “Do It,” in which Denise pines for a boyfriend who can make love to her and maintain an erection, Graves’ kids use every resource they can to cope with the unfair and unreasonable burdens with which they are saddled.
Two stories, however, continue to stick with me days after I finished the book. “A Snow Day” captures teen idol wanna-be Cassidy whose father is the town’s infamous gay pedophile. Its ending—which has nothing to do with molestation—is so shocking, so unexpected, that I had to read it a few times to confirm what was happening. Then, I closed the book and thought about how remorselessly evil some people can be. “Seahorse” is the story of a huffer named George, his boyfriend Woody and George’s quest to have a baby. And—as I now remember—it was one of the best tales in Blair Mastbaum’s terrific anthology of a few years ago, Cool Thing.
But none of these plots would mean a thing if it weren’t for Graves’ prose style, which incorporates all senses to hurl you into a world of simple images so startlingly true they could be poetry. Hell, they are poetry. His dialogue sounds so natural, it could have been overheard at the mall. Graves is one of the most original young voices writing for our community today—so pick up a copy of Dirty One and you can tell your friends that you were a fan from the beginning.
Because you will be.