“Who’s really free, us or them?”
– “Large Garbage” from Radio Belly: Stories by Buffy Cram
Open up any book and look at the expanse of black letters on the pages – it’s a flat, two-dimensional landscape. If I’m being honest with myself, a sizable percentage of the novels and short story collections that I read really are flat – the words and sentences don’t rise off of the page and make themselves noteworthy in any way. But some writers have an almost transcendental way with words and the images and ideas in their stories do virtually jump off the pages to create an enthralling and singularly unique literary topography.
My favorite stories were also the weirdest. In “Loveseat,” a morning show radio personality named Jason Jenson (aka Jenson the Jet), whose knowledge of rock n’ roll trivia is unsurpassed, falls in love and marries Laureen, whose childhood was spent following The Grateful Dead all over the country. But once married, their seemingly perfect relationship soon takes a surreal turn and Jason uncovers jaw-dropping secrets about his wife’s past – namely involving a guy named Jerry! “The Moustache Conspiracy” follows a beleaguered mother and her grown son – who was diagnosed as a schizophrenic as a child – as they take a seaside vacation and, after almost dying in a kayak mishap, find existential illumination in a bunch of hippie pirates living off the grid. “Mineral by Mineral” revolves around a woman with deep-seated anger issues who, after being dumped and demoted in a week's time, finds contentment eating dirt; and “Large Garbage” – easily my favorite story of the collection – is set in an affluent neighborhood overrun with “hybrids,” nomadic groups of homeless intellectuals who creep into rich people’s houses while they’re away and party naked in their hot tubs, eat their salade niçoise, drink their wine, read Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung from their libraries, and watch Masterpiece Theatre on TV. When white collar number cruncher Henry Brown finds this “new breed of homeless” in his front yard, at first he is appalled – but when he finds himself out of a job and kicked out of his own home, their situation suddenly seems liberating…
As I mentioned earlier, Cram’s words do literally rise off of the pages. There were so many noteworthy sequences in this collection. As a reviewer, I take quite detailed notes on all of the books I review – and I do keep track of particularly memorable lines. Many books have none. This collection had almost two notebook pages full of them. Here is just a sampling of what you can expect when you read Radio Belly: Stories.
• “We emerged on a Monday night famished, dehydrated and weakened by the miracles we’d encountered: of the human body, and of the love two people can go without for so long, of being two but being one and, finally, of having become so enamoured and so raw, as though over the course of three days we’d unpeeled each other and were now soft grapes up against all the hard things in this world.” – from “Loveseat”
• “Only a few are brave enough to admit that we’re all living off each other, one way or another.” – from “Large Garbage”
• “It’s about leaving behind a peculiar kind of emptiness you’ve always associated with home – your lightweight life, like a hollowed-out shell.” – from “Mrs. English Teacher”
• “Burn your old life maps!” – from “The Moustache Conspiracy”
• “Everything is something else. Anger is really disappointment and disappointment is really grief and grief is really loneliness. She says feelings are ladders, that each step down brings you closer to the source.” – from “Radio Belly”
And for those of you with a NOOK, D & M Publishers is offering Large Garbage as a free e-single! So if you are a fan of original and insightful short fiction, download Large Garbage free of charge – chances are good that after you sample this deeply thought-provoking story, you’ll be compelled to read the entire collection!
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
Keep up with all of my blogs – as well as all of Barnes & Noble’s exclusive reviews, authors interviews, videos, promotions, and more – by following @BNBuzz on Twitter!
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