3 Stars - Recommended to those who enjoy reading about the downward swirl of bottom-rung humanity in the toilet of life
Publisher: House of Vlad Productions
Brian Alan Ellis doesn't have much hope for the human race. He doesn't see us in vivid technicolor. Rather, to him, humanity is drenched in darkness, hidden in shadow, and exuding guilt and sin.
Scraping the absolute bottom of the barrel, we find him shining a light on the squirmy, dirty, shifty souls he discovers buried down there. Fetishists, a dead cat, drunkards, the cripplingly depressed, and self-mutilators all cling together and hang separately in this collection of short (and shorter) stories.
In my opinion, the stories that bookend the collection - Crumbs of Love and The Sailboat/Hatchet Painting - are the strongest of the bunch. In the former, you have a dude sitting on the couch, absolutely in love with life and his girlfriend. When he opens his mouth to tell her this, she jumps down his throat and shatters his feel-good buzz. She's a bitch, this chick, and we can see it plain as day. But our poor ole dude is so love-struck, and now so panic-stricken at the thought of her not loving him nearly as much as he loves her, we just can't help but shake our heads. Cause we've all been there. At some point, we've all been sitting exactly where he sits, mouth agape with stupid ridiculous semi-blubbering shit driveling out of our mouths. In the latter, we meet two people (pretty sure they are brother and sister) chatting away meaninglessly about what's been going on in their lives. We learn about the sister's second ex-husband who used to crash at the brother's apartment (before the sister met and married him). The guy was an artist and we're given the rundown on the rumored sale of his one and only masterpiece - an unremarkable painting of a sailboat with a hatchet stuck through it that contained some remarkable "ingredients".
Stories like Eulogy for Johnny Thunders, which is about a dude, his ex-girlfriend, and her mother standing graveside in varying degrees of mourning over the untimely death of their cat; Leftover Heels, about the pair of shoes an ex-girlfriend leaves behind and the things one lonely man does with them; Lunch Lady, where a husband has a bad reaction to his wife's new 'do; and Delia Done Wrong, where a guy who planned to cheat on his girlfriend while she's away on a trip gets what he wants, and worse, hold their own and help to set the tone of the remainder of the collection.
Not all of the stories reach that same caliber, though. I started and then stopped reading For Pain with Sleeplessness and Loco Mask II because they just weren't grabbing me. And for all the awesomeness of its title, while The Mustache He's Always Wanted But Could Never Grow was short and well written, it was simultaneously disappointing.
For all their faults, Ellis doesn't paint his characters in a poor light. He isn't asking for your pity. He's simply pulling back the sheet and saying "see, see this stinking, festering wound of a human here? see how handsome he can be?", bringing the ugliness of human nature to the surface so it too can find its moment in the sun.