Intermixing snapshots from three very different lives, Schuelke exposes one of the flaws of the American Dream without offering a comfortable vision of a better way. Cynical, yet at times humorous, this collection will resonate with anyone who ever questioned how they were supposed to follow their dreams if they can’t afford a bus fare.
This collection contains fourteen short stories divided into three groups: the further lack of adventures of Floyd Spicer, protagonist of Anamakee; the crusty, drug-adjacent life of Imogene McDonald; and the power-fuelled posturing of Godan, a decidedly grimy superhero.
As with Schuelke’s novel, Anamakee, these stories are told mostly in short simple sentences about events rather than flowing displays of emotion. Depending on the reader’s taste this will either enhance the sense of characters struggling against the tedium that invades their lives or create an unfortunate echo that distracts from the story.
This dichotomy of response is likely to be especially strong in the fight scenes of the Godan stories, where the simple back and forth of superpowers and physical actions will either evoke the brutalism of comics or rob the scene of any sense of purpose beyond violence for the sake of it.
This sense of characters continuing without progressing is evident in Schuelke’s plotting. Many of these stories begin with a character experiencing a challenging yet not – for them – unusual situation, and end with them having responded to events without resolving the true issues; in a few cases the story even ends without the immediate situation having changed. While the superhero tales do have more of a feeling of resolution, even they almost exclusively focus on a current situation rather than any meaningful advancement. As with the style of the prose, readers will either find this a powerful depiction of a generation unable to escape their place in America’s capitalist nightmare or an irritating departure from the normal arc of modern fiction.
While the Floyd stories reveal different moments in his life, there is – perhaps fittingly – no real character development within them: Floyd enters the stage almost exactly as he will leave it, and each story can be read without needing to have read any of the others or Anamakee. While he might have the potential to achieve great things, he is hemmed in by invisible walls of society and status that render him incapable of finding a situation that will challenge his current life.
Imogene’s stories are edgier, featuring not the casual apathy of Floyd, but the more frenetic hollowness of drug users and their sort-of-friends. These characters have, in actively rejecting society, gained the ability to act, but have also slipped far enough from the centre that their forcefulness acts only on those around them. Thrashing, their strength tears the edges of the hole down onto them rather than lifting them up.
The Godan stories take this theme of ineffectual power to it’s extreme. Post-teen superheroes battle young supervillains not because of some purity of spirit, but because they are pissed off at each other, a pretty girl asks them to, or the simply don’t have anything better to do. One part building-destroying mega-fight, one part slackers hanging out in a cheap flat, these stories show that the potential to achieve your dreams is worthless if society hasn’t ever shown you that you’re special.
Overall, I enjoyed this collection more for its social resonance than the specifics of the stories. I recommend it to readers seeking a portrayal of post-teenage life in mid-America that’s utterly free of pretension.
I received an advance review copy from the author with a request for a fair review.