Book Title: The Overwhelming Urge
Author: Andersen Prunty
Why I Consider This Book Odd: It was published by Eraserhead Press, a print house that embraces bizarro authors.
Type of Work: fiction, short story collection
Availability: This book was published by Eraserhead Press in 2008 and is available through a number of sources, most notably Amazon.
Comments: You can acquire the taste for bizarro fiction, but more likely than not, you are born loving it. Many can read bizarro fiction and wonder, “What the hell was the purpose of that?” and toss the book away, the literary equivalent to the reaction many had the first time they saw David Lynch’s Eraserhead. But as a genre, and a relatively new one at that, bizarro fiction goes much deeper than just the surreal and insane (possibly unsane) tales the authors present. Underneath crazy tropes, nightmare landscapes, and outright absurdity lies much more if the reader is willing to untangle the words, suspend disbelief, and enjoy the ride
Andersen Prunty’s The Overwhelming Urge already had a mark in its favor, as I love flash fiction when done well (and it is very hard to do – try and tell a story in 1000, 750 or 500 words or less). Prunty does flash well, and there are a couple of short story length pieces in the book. His spare writing style can cram a lot into a few lines, and in the midst of all the absurdity, there is a pathos that drew me into the stories.
For example, in the story “Bully,” the trope is that the protagonist sent a story to the wrong sort of venue and the editor not only rejected it, but showed up at the protagonist’s home to challenge him to a fight. As one reads the description of the bully and the protagonist, then looks at Prunty’s author picture on the back page, the resemblance between the three is clear, and one wonders if this tale is possibly a clever, short look at the writer’s war with himself. The mistakes, the potential for humiliation, the sense of horror when work is rejected by peers. Of course, the story is littered with strange details that could mean the piece is simply an attempt to entertain using absurdity, but as someone who tries herself to write fiction, I left the piece with this interpretation.
I also loved “The Bright Side,” a piece where a young man’s father is having trouble drinking a beer, which is understandable since his father is an antelope. The father asks the son if he is embarrassed by him, and the son denies this, pouring the beer into his cupped hands so his father can lap it up. Yet later, he realizes his father must have sucked up all the spilled beer from the carpet, and he cringes at the thought. As his father tries drunkenly to walk on his hind legs, the son wonders, with trepidation, what the old man will do next. You can shoot me in the head now if the changes in our aging parents have not led to similar feelings of love combined with dread.
Some of the stories are straight up absurdism mixed with horror (“The Hole” is eerily close to a nightmare I had once about a stinking hole in my face that sickened everyone around me), but each story, whether it ends well or sadly, etches a picture of the human conditions of love, cooperation, hubris and suffering. A man with clown shoes too big for him finds a defeated man with shoes too small and they trade, making life easier for both. A vain man is bested by his overtight pants. God becomes a jaded rock star and shows clearly that man is made in God’s image. A man wakes up to discover that he has changed into the handsomest man alive, but it doesn’t matter because everyone else has turned into Picasso-esque monstrosities who find him repellent.
But my favorite piece is “The Fancy Hairs.” A middle-aged man called Carl gets a perm and initially his friends circle him warily, unsure about his new hair, attuned to his new difference like dogs can smell fear. Carl begins to regret his fancy new hair, until the next week, when his friends all show up with fancy, permed hair, too. They stand around smoking, and whistling at young women, all with a new, if low-brow and not entirely useful, lease on life, but a new lease nonetheless.
I liked this book a lot. I will definitely be checking out more of Prunty’s work.