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!

The 2015 Jersey Devil Press Anthology

2015 Anthology Cover

Here at Jersey Devil Press, there are three things we look for in a story: strangeness, beauty, and poop jokes. And while this collection is admittedly a little shy on scatological humor, the 18 works collected here are easily the strangest and most beautiful things we’ve ever published.

The 2015 Jersey Devil Press Anthology contains the best work from our last five years, written by some of our favorite authors. We love them in a way we’re not entirely comfortable with.

And we know you’ll feel the same.

Featuring work by Nicola Belte, Jackson Burgess, Christopher DeWan, J.D. Hager, Anna Lea Jancewicz, Liz Kicak, Christopher Lettera, Kimberly Lojewski, Ally Malinenko, Matthew Myers, Ben Nardolilli, Michael Sions, Danger Slater, y.t. sumner, Sloan Thomas, Graham Tugwell, and Yvonne Yu.

Available now. Get a copy at Amazon and Smashwords.

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventure

Christopher DeWan

14 February

I’ve finally done it! After years of wanting to escape the bounds of civilization, I’ve sold my house and everything in it, traded the bourgeois trappings of luxury for a small cutter sailboat and a dream — and now I’m ready to leave this old, cluttered, tedious life, and trade it for one of adventure.

I’ve never forgotten those uncharted archipelagos where we anchored during my days in the Merchant Marines; I have every confidence I’ll be able to find them within a few hours of departing port in Princeville.

Goodbye, old world! Welcome, unknown!

26 February

The winds blustery and the waves unpredictable, but how good it feels to be tested against the unmerciful ocean, one man versus the brute force of Nature! Swells thrice the height of my boat’s mast, tossing the craft aloft and every which way, the sting of salt water in my eyes, reminding me I’m alive — so alive! Tomorrow I’ll anchor in port to purchase the supplies and rations that are to last me throughout the rest of my day, and then I disappear from civilization forever.

1 March

An hour before dawn and under cover of darkness, I hoisted my sail and slipped back onto the open ocean. Everything was still and calm and quiet; the sea was wondrous, alive with dancing porpoises and phosphorescent jellies; and the moon beckoned me on.

True to my memory, I found the islands! I found them, right where I’d left them, all those years ago: a small and secreted paradise. For now I’ve anchored in a lagoon: I’ll spend my next days scouting the terrain from my boat, because what’s the investment of a few more days cooped up, if the reward afterward is beautiful serene isolation, no noise but my own pulse and the murmur of the tides?

2 March

My luck is better than I’d hoped: there’s a clean, airy cave a hundred yards from the beach that will offer me shelter; a spring of fresh drinking water; a cove blessed with bountiful fish; and the whole island lush with a feast of edible vegetation — berries and nuts and coconut, and bamboo of all sizes, from which I can fashion any array of useful objects.

How many men, stranded on such a deserted island, would waste their days dreaming of an escape from it? But here, now — this is my dream: to be stranded on this island, like Adam’s son, and never to leave.

3 March

I’ve committed a decisive act that many would call rash, but which for me is simply a ritual affirmation of the rightness of my course of action: I’ve burned my boat. There is no going back.

4 March

Today I lived purely, like the savages of old: I caught fish with my own hands, hung them to smoke over a fire, swam naked in the warm sea, and even began carving an old log into a sort of decorative totem pole, upon which I intend to sculpt frightening visages, such as would scare off any passersby, though of course the possibility of a passerby is remote bordering on ridiculous here in this Paradise.

5 March

Fate is cruel.

Earlier today washed ashore a wounded fishing vessel with a great gaping hole in its hull, and its crew of survivors is now cluttering up my perfectly serene island.

For now I’ll maintain my presence in secret, and hope they quickly find enough competence to fetch themselves off of my island.

8 March

The insufferable buffoons are still here. If they’d landed anywhere else on Earth, they’d surely have perished by now, fodder for whatever indigenous predator; or perhaps poisoned themselves on local flora; or simply lit themselves on fire from their sheer incompetence, then drowned while trying to put out the flames. But such is the hospitality of my island paradise: they seem able to blunder on forever without any consequence.

They’re led by a pompous captain and puerile man-child, the two of them together incapable of a single competent act — and thanks to this guileless leadership, the wretched castaways are no closer to rescuing themselves than the day they arrived.

Tonight, I will dress as a cannibal and sneak into their camp, to repair their radio and survey the damage to their boat. These infelicitous folk must go, even if I have to mend their vessel myself.

9 March

Woe is me: their craft, The Minnow, is damaged beyond repair. It seems these hapless stock characters are to be my mates here in Eden, till my hand or Fate’s conceives of another alternative. One can only hope that their incessant scheming, or mine, will soon arrive them at a happy escape. How long can this go on?

CHRISTOPHER DEWAN is author of the book Work and Other Essays, and has published numerous short stories in journals recently including Bartleby Snopes, Crack the Spine, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, Grey Sparrow, JMWW, and wigleaf. His fiction has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. Learn more at christopherdewan.com.