Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales by Tom Williams
4 Stars - Stronly Recommended by Lavinia
Publisher: Texas Review Press
Released: July 2015
Reviewed by Lavinia Ludlow
Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales is a social commentary on a multitude of issues ranging from race, stereotypes, to every other person’s (regardless of color, creed, national origin) insecurities. Ultimately, these obscure stories examine the quiet, yet vulnerable and desperate state of mind, and those who capitalize on that vulnerability and desperation. Let us give you a makeover and a new suit, and we guarantee you will enter a party just like a movie star, maybe even like Brad Pitt. Want to impress everyone at your birthday party or office potluck? Hire a celebrity look-a-like, we even have writer look-a-likes. Aspiring writer? Promote your non-fiction account of the best fried chicken you’ve ever had by selling out to a fast-food chain. In need of personal validation? Become a reality TV character by exposing your troubled marriage, your struggles as an aspiring musician, or endure disgusting challenges like eating your own vomit that you will inevitably re-vomit on camera.
Scattered in between are stories not often heard but ones we all at one time seek to understand: what came of that guy who worshipped a televangelist’s end of the world prediction, quit his job and devoted himself to planning for the future of the human race? What is it like being an African American cop on a day-to-day, shift-to-shift basis, especially with all the recent headlines about police brutality? What if you were the last man on earth who hadn’t voluntarily humiliated himself on a reality TV show and everyone was pressuring you to pop your on-camera cherry? Williams also presents biracial protagonists, ones struggling with an identity crisis, and feel lost in a no man’s land between two different cultures. However, regardless of ethnicity, the underlying theme of these stories is obvious: each character yearns to satisfy the inherent desire to belong, to contribute and therefore mean something to the world, and to attain self-gratification that runs deeper than the superficial.
In The Story of My Novel, Three Piece Meal and Drink, a writer loiters in fast-food joint mulling over rejections, and before self-medicating with fried chicken, he resolves to write one last fiction piece before giving up and trying to find muted satisfaction as a bowling alley manager. After the fried chicken gives him a mouth orgasm, he is inspired to spread the word about his culinary experience. Yelp, perhaps? No. The fried chicken is a muse for a non-fiction book, which the fast-food joint publishes and forever grease-stains his name with their corporate advertising scheme.
Movie Star Entrances is about an introverted man seeking a makeover from an eccentric couple. They claim they can to transform the most ordinary person into extraordinary for a night on the town, a family reunion, or even an office party. Pony up $450 and they will make sure anyone stands out in a crowd and leaves an unforgettable impression on everybody in the room. Although the protagonist is skeptical, he can’t help but resign to his unyielding need to be accepted.
“Yet he overlooked this possible malfunction, as he was very near believing that whatever this was—a charade or masquerade—he would not regret his outlay of four hundred and fifty [dollars]. He backed out of the parking lot and drove home quickly, so he might get in bed and dream.”
Most stories have a bizarre element that takes a degree of patience to digest. Subjects like stalking clones, an underground makeover team, and a dystopian society obsessed with reality TV are baffling, but the antics maintain the tension, keep us guessing what’s around the bend, and ultimately, Williams brilliantly leverages the outlandish. He takes humanity’s deepest vulnerabilities and society’s flaws, blows them up on the jumbo-tron, and examines them in strange premises. In the end, he reminds us that we are superficial, but our focus runs deeper than appearance and skin alone. At the end of each day, we are all seeking to find ourselves, to stand out while still wholly fitting in, to belong somewhere, to mean something to someone--to anyone, but most of all, we want to be noticed.
Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales is contemporary literary storytelling at its finest, and makes for one emotionally intelligent, socially aware, and entertaining read.
Check it out over at Texas Review Press.
Lavinia Ludlow is a musician and writer dividing time between San Francisco and London. Her debut novel, alt.punk (2011), explored the ragged edge of art, society, and sanity, viciously skewering the politics of rebellion. Her sophomore novel, Single Stroke Seven (2016), explores the lives of independent artists coming of age in perilous economic conditions. Both titles can be purchased through Casperian Books. Her short works have been published in Pear Noir!, Curbside Splendor Semi-Annual Journal, and Nailed Magazine, and her indie lit reviews have appeared in Small Press Reviews, The Rumpus, The Collagist, The Nervous Breakdown, Entropy Magazine, and American Book Review.