Columnist Andrea McGuigan reviews two new releases.
Confessions of the World’s Best Father
by Dave Engledow
Gotham May 2014; 176 pgs
Just in time for Father’s Day (the publishers knew what they were doing with this project) may I present you first-time father David Engledow and his good-sport of a daughter, Alice Bee. When Engledow and his wife Jen found out they were becoming parents, Engledow knew he couldn’t become one of those people who posed sappy, clichéd photos of his child all over Facebook. So he dug into his Photojournalist’s tool bag, strapped on his darkly satirical sense of humor and made a book of professionally-done, hilariously inappropriate photos of Alice Bee and Daddy’s adventures. The picture that begat the project features a bedraggled Engledow, holding Alice Bee sideways like a football, while squirting her baby bottle (full of breast milk) into his morning coffee. The look on his face is perfect: tired, cranky and deadpan. That he caught Alice Bee watching the milk go into his coffee mug is perfection. Other scenarios in the book include making pancakes in bed, or one where Alice gleefully wields a pizza cutter while Engledow’s finger gushes blood. The photos will make you laugh but you’ll also see the love that the author feels for his daughter. The humor may be black but if anything it shows us the insecurity that a new father might feel, especially when, like Engledow, his military wife is away for an entire year, leaving him to make the big decisions and photo-document the proof. This is a well-done project worth the cost of the book.
This collection of eleven stories by novelist John Brandon (A Million Heavens, 2012, Citrus County, 2010) will appeal to fans of Denis Johnson, Lorrie Moore, Charles Portis and other darkly witty American writers. The stories are populated with people from diverse backgrounds — men of the cloth, gamblers, psychics — and all seem to be testing their own boundaries, seeing what it means to push themselves into new possibilities of existence. A woman in one story, “The Picnickers,” goes to visit an old girlfriend in Chicago and instead ends up having a semi-date with her friend’s teenage son. Because it’s good storytelling, our protagonist is sympathetic, because she’s searching for herself.
“For years she’d been trying to get herself to watch more TV, but none of it seemed intended for her. She wasn’t a target audience, she supposed — there wasn’t a spinster-in-training-of-above-average-intelligence demographic.”
In a more surreal story, “The Differing Views,” a heartbroken man comes home to a vision (or is it?) of seven human brains on his spare bedroom’s floor. In “The Midnight Gales” a religious cult is formed around the weather: storms rip through a small town, prying the roofs off of homes and randomly sweeping away its residents. Rather than study the weather, the people form a religion and that provides them with all the information they care to know. Again, it’s handled deftly by the author. Brandon isn’t afraid to experiment, both with what his characters are capable of or the way he guides those characters through language. The prose is original and illuminating, adding a voice to modern literature that will be welcomed by many.
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