"The danger of being clever is that your heart will choke on your tongue."
This single arresting sentence captures everything I loved about Hoopty Time Machines fairy tales for grown ups (Atticus Books, 2016), Christopher DeWan's inventive, witty and poignant short story collection.
As the title implies, DeWan's stories often invoke iconic characters from across the ages - the Minotaur of ancient mythology, Grimm Brothers-style damsels in distress, changelings of Celtic lore, and even modern movie monsters like Godzilla - but these cautionary tales take place in contemporary settings. You know you are in for a good ride right from the start, with a modern-day workplace featuring an impossibly absurd interview process and a soulless corporate labyrinth that consumes all those dedicated employees who dare enter.
The stories that don't riff on familiar tales and characters introduce whimsical/fantastical elements of their own. What I loved best about the entire collection was the precision of DeWan's writing, and how each brief story conveyed worlds of meaning. In a single paragraph, "Renewal" tells the tale of a recently widowed woman who buries her husband exactly as he threatened she would have to - with the years of amassed National Geographic magazines he refused to dispose of buried "over my dead body." In a few lines, through the lens of one minor resentment, this tiny story spoke volumes about an entire marriage and a complicated grief.
Many of the stories appeal to our inner Twilight Zone: In "Voodoo," an attentive father who fears the growing distance between parents and teenage daughter anxiously considers the possibility that those we love most might inexplicably turn and conspire against us. In "Hoopty Time Machines," a parent's seemingly innocuous and geeky past-time is unveiled to be an elaborate escape plot. "The Changeling" is a powerful and chilling microfiction about a bullied boy and revenge.
Within each story, too, is a careful balance of humor and despair, and it is this which leaves the reader thinking about many of these stories long after finishing the book. "Blog of the Last Man on Earth" is the perfect example. Both funny and devastating, this bittersweet dispatch from the sole survivor of the apocalypse reminds us that all that appears superficial and all that is profoundly meaningful about our little life here on this little planet are pretty much one and the same.
I received my complimentary review copy of Hoopty Time Machines from the publisher.