Review: Hoopty Time Machines by Christopher DeWan

Ihoopty_lower-case_front-196x300t’s no secret that we’re dedicated admirers of Christopher DeWan. (Christofans? DeWanthusiasts?) His clever Robinson Crusoe-Gilligan’s Island mashup, “The Life of Strange and Surprizing Adventure,” washed ashore in our February 2015 issue, and “Godzilla Reading Haiku” trampled our collective hearts back in 2013 and stamped into our most recent print anthology.

So when we were invited to review his flash fiction collection, we were over the moon like a cow on a trampoline. As soon as the slick little number (props to Yevgenia Nayberg for nifty cover design) popped up in our Pine Barrens mail hole, we plunged in with high expectations–and we were not disappointed.

Hoopty Time Machines (Atticus Books) is the literary equivalent of a perfect mix tape. Cover tracks of beloved stories and myths turn the classics upside down and shake shiny new coins out of their pockets. “Goldilocks and the Three Boys” shines in the details, such as how each brother’s name has sly ursine or woodland tones, while “Poseidon’s Net” is funny and sad and plays rough with words like “fishnets.”

There are also some original songs on the playlist. Standouts include the aforementioned tale of daikaiju zen as well as “Voodoo” and “The Trolls,” which depict (from different vantage points) parent-child relationships that may or may not be suffering from supernatural interference. Oh, and the object mentioned in the title track is not what it claims to be. Except, in a painful way, it is.

The speculative elements in these stories are engaging on their own terms, but they never overpower the achingly human desires of their characters. There are doorstop novels out there that fail to achieve the emotional impact DeWan can generate with a single honest, well-crafted sentence: “All we knew was that we were alone again, in the quiet, with nothing but one another” (“The Signal”).

The subtitle of the collection, Fairy Tales for Grown Ups, hints at the wonders and horrors that infuse the stories while effectively framing their audience: Here There Be Monsters, but they are often tangled with the psychological foes one must battle later in life as a weary denizen of the modern world. Treat yo’self to this book of delightmares. And while you’re at it, grab one for a friend.

The official release date is September 22, 2016, but you can pre-order it now!

Everything Is Always Wrong

It’s no secret we like Graham Tugwell. I believe JDP was the first lit mag to publish him back in 2011 with “Mammy’d Give Me Minds to Eat.” A year later we highlighted Graham’s work on St. Patrick’s Day and have remained big fans as he’s undertaken a spectacular (and crazy prolific) indie writing career.

So we were pretty excited when a package from Ireland arrived at our underground lair a few weeks back, containing a minty-fresh copy of his debut mini-collection, Everything is Always Wrong. (It’s technically called a “collectionette,” which we think is Gaelic for “nicely produced chap book.” We’re just gonna call it a book from here on.)

Everything Is Always Wrong starts out with a simple prologue urging you to know the rules:

1. There is No God.
2. Love is Impossible.
3. The Universe is Malign.

It’s a concise and simple summation of the feel-good attitude that pervades Graham’s work and makes him so endearing. As prologues/forewards go, it’s a great start – not just to the book, but as the cruelly brutal mission statement that lies at the core of the more than seventy stories Graham’s published in the past two years.

After that, though, I honestly held my breath for a lot of the book. I obviously enjoy Graham’s writing a great deal, but I wasn’t entirely sure about the story selection. The JDP-published “We Left Him with the Dragging Man” is included, which is great (we nominated it for a Pushcart), but that’s something I’ve already read half a dozen times. Of the other four stories, “Romancing the Crab” and “High Five, Danny O’C” were both solid, showing the special gift Graham has for blending dark comedy, stark horror, warped sexuality, and social awkwardness into a speculative fiction soup uniquely his. But neither of them truly knocked me out. Moreover, the fourth entry, “Unskin Me with Your Neck of Knives,” while not bad per se, seemed a bit of a misstep. I would’ve preferred something a bit stronger like “Sweetly Tight Comiseratrix…Sadness Cultivating” or the unbelievably good “My Son Is My Motorbike” in that slot instead. (But then I’m a pain in the ass.)

Fortunately, the real payoff comes at the end of the book with “They’ve Come to Paint the Doors Again.” It’s simply fucking brilliant. There’s a quote floating around the Internet that compares Graham to Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker, which might seem a bit much at first. But after reading “Paint” you feel it’s completely valid. As an editor, it’s the one story that made me go, “Goddamn, I wished we published that.” With “Dragging Man,” it tips the balance of the book from just solid to fucking great.

In short, Everything Is Always Wrong is worth picking up, even if shipping from Ireland is a bit pricey. We have a feeling Graham will eventually catch on with a bigger audience. When he does, you can tell everyone how you were into him way back when and have the collectionette to prove it. Then you can explain what a collectionette is.

An Audible Apocalypse

Like most of you, we’re excited that next month we’ll finally be able to enjoy The Great Gatsby as F. Scott Fitzgerald originally envisioned it: in 3-D! Not to be left behind, JDP’s most popular title, Exponential Apocalypse, is now available in, uh, 1-D. Wait, is sound a dimension? Fuck it, the point is they made an audio book out of Eirik Gumeny’s debut novel, read by Lee Ann Howlett, and you can get it NOW over at Audible. I think I speak for everyone at JDP when I say, “How fucking cool is that?”

The Gumenymania continues as Eirik has also released a chap book, Boy Meets Girl, through Kattywompus Press. We’re told that it’s uncharacteristically lacking in poop jokes and f-bombs, but we’re down with that. Consider it his Nebraska and go get your copy.