Home / Books / Book Reviews / Book Review: Awkward Two, Edited by Jeffrey Dinsmore, Clay McLeod Chapman, Kyle Jarrow

Book Review: Awkward Two, Edited by Jeffrey Dinsmore, Clay McLeod Chapman, Kyle Jarrow

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Earth’s first extraterrestrial visitors get handed mops and brooms and are pressed into household chores. While stemming the attack of pantysniffer ants a woman declares her undying Duchampian devotion: “Baby … If you believe in love, we can live together like two corpses stripped bare in the sun.” The importance of zen and the art of house painting go up in futility and fumes.

Meet a boy without a birthday born in the cracks between days, forced to steal other children’s birthday wishes before they blow out the candles on their cakes. The suburban dream has turned into a nightmare for one man who has  awakened during an unknown family’s backyard barbeque — inexplicably strapped to a gurney, arms and legs fastened to the metal bars with Saran Wrap.

Experience the unbearable lightness of being high on … well, you have to read it to believe it…

In fact, whether pensive or inventive, there’s a surprise or two in every package – in practically every 33 of the micro-short stories – economically bubbling over the bounds of Awkward Two’s one hundred pages. An array of subject matter, themes, styles, tones, and characters are represented. Don’t like one story in this mostly hit, some miss, affair? Turn a page or two, flip on through – there’s another, and another…

You may get snagged by the Tom Waitsian wordplay in the frequent fragments that’ll lead you on in “5 Bits,” by Nadja Stokes: “Desiree’s prosthetic leg is a few inches shorter than her real leg & has a huge plastic foot that squeaks when she walks. The paint chipped off the pinky toe & she wears a fraying, gray garter belt tight around the thigh…”

Or you can get walloped by the concluding payoff in Rachel Lieberman’s inspired and suitably disjointed “Instructions for Operating a Heartbreaking Machine + Minutes From the New Harper Valley PTA,” in which neither parents or teachers seem to have checked their dysfunctions or inhibitions at the door, especially the cookies- and crack-loving Mrs. Kalinsky.

In more conventional terms comes the character study in Kyle Jarrow’s “Advil Man,” which compellingly and sympathetically follows the ups-and-downs of an out of work actor harboring mixed emotions during a new commercial audition.

Just as poignant is the coming-of-age slice of life evoked by Joshua Citrak’s “Pure Gold,” in which a boy gets reacquainted with his grandfather and uncle as they take a drive – the taboo and enigmatic subject of the boy’s father never mentioned or explained — in a gold Cadillac. Though all kinds of cues for modern-story cynicism and sarcasm present themselves, it is refreshing that none were acted upon and the characters were portrayed in a realistic enough manner that sincerity and vulnerabilities were sustained. “What I understood, without anyone to show me,” the appreciative boy reflects, “was that becoming a man was as simple as biology. You got taller taking up more space with dumb meat until you were big enough to force your way through the world.”

John Harrower, in “Greed,” tweaks the convention of the time travel tale with a character who, in trying to fix a romantic problem by a simple rectifying trip to the past, only ends up making it worse. Though he “wanted his woman and his future back and he was determined to get it, any way he could,” he keeps compounding his problems by repeatedly traveling back and forth in time like some myopic fix-it man with the wrong measurements.

“Romantics,” by James Veitch, brings the chase a little more down to earth, where love succumbs in the whimsical festivities attended by such 19th century literary and artistic Romantic figures as a drunken Wordsworth (“[He’s] hammered. Let him in before he espies a flowerpot and writes an ode”), and Lamb (“pissed as a fart”). Much of the action centers on a flirty, fickle Fanny Brawne homing in on the object of her affection Keats, telling him, “Mr. Keats, It takes more that a little Byrionic flair, a few oversized collars, and flamboyant cravats to win me over.”

More inventive and successful still is the juxtaposition of a jarring element within a mundane setting. The standout story “An Open Letter to Our Valued Clients,” by Heather Clitheroe, introduces via a carefully worded letter of recommendation, a crew of pirates – “Captain Jiggers’ Band of Consultancy Specialists (late of the sailing frigate Persephone)” — as new, additional staff in an existing human resources department. Cohesive and inclusive, a bottle of wry, Clitheroe – in contrast to the sketchy nature of some of Awkward Two’s stories – wittily and entertainingly anticipates and covers all potential contingencies, from employee motivation to the issue of wenches and gold doubloons.

Besides, the shared struggles among the employees should be looked upon as an “opportunity for growth”: “You will learn to develop resilience when it seems that your life has spiraled into a maddening nightmare of cutlass duels, drunken sea shanties, and the many frightening nips of Mrs. Pepperpot’s beak.”

Come to think of it, that’s kind of what your reading experience will feel like, too, as you turn the pages of Awkward Two: a downward spiral into a maddening nightmare of cutlass duels, drunken sea shanties, and frightening, persistent nips of a parrot’s beak. But it’s a good kind of downward spiral — and we haven’t even mentioned of G.K. Wuori’s “A Cup of Chili,” about the woman who finds Angelina Jolie — and the dilemma of what to do with her — in her Wendy’s chili.

If you think that kind of colorful experience – and other tales from Awkward Two – sounds not only sinfully good but also cinematically so, you’ve anticipated the good folks at Awkward Press, who have made available filmed adaptations of some of the these creative stories. Purchase a copy of Awkward Two from awkwardpress.com, and you will receive a Free Digital Versatile Disc (DVD).

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • Thanks for the review, Gordon! FYI, for more info on the book and links to a gazillion different formats, please visit our website. If you’d like to see some of the film adaptations, you can check them out.

  • Thanks for a great review, guys! I’m celebrating with a bottle of wry! 🙂