Puppet Shows by Michael Frissore (Writers AMuse me Publishing: 2012). A collection of short stories by a writer the Tuscon Weekly describes as “a very funny weirdo”. All of them are bizarre, and feature sock puppets regularly.
Last week, I got a bit grumpy at Kurkov. I fell a bit in love with his dry absurdity a few years ago, and felt he’d sullied what we had by trying to drag it out over a full length, epic novel. Such Tom-foolery doesn’t seem to be able to hold attention for long periods.
It’s like the original Star Trek in that way - fun and intriguing, but ultimately a bit boring if you’re forced to watch it for a full hour. (Yes, I’m very definitely on Team Picard, not Team Kirk. Unless you’re talking about the modern Krik. But I digress…)
So, in the search for something new and fresh and absurd and short, Twitter told me to pick Puppet Shows up.
Like a lot of Twitter suggestions, this is not mainstream fiction. It’s not mainstream anything. This guy is weird, and the stories he tells are every bit as bizarre. But from page 1, they’re fun. The stories are so far off the wall they’re in the garden somewhere.
Frissore should be praised for more than just his sense of humour though. There’s an incredibly fluent turn of phrase here; you can hear every word smoothly, without effort. The language is spare in places, but often lively and always interesting. It’s conversational, but if that conversation was being held by the two sharpest, wittiest people you know (who also happen to be loony tunes).
I don’t know if Frissore bangs this stuff out without sweat, or if he agonises over each syllable, but the effect is prose that’s as rewarding to read as it is funny.
There are sacrifices for such spoonfuls of farce, though. Lay your self down on such a silly alter, and there are things you have to throw out the window. For example, believability, and with it any lasting connection with characters.
In his zeal for the absurd, Frissore also slips into a random-word-generator trap sometimes. There are elements inserted sometimes simply because of how out of place they appear. It only sticks out very occasionally. For the most part, Frissore manages to keep these in the realms of relevance, but occasionally my eyes rolled ever so slightly at attempts to insert a wacky ingredient.
It’s a difficult plate to spin though, creating something both worthwhile and absurd. And in many of these stories, Frissore nails it. One or two heart strings are even plucked subtly, with a three word flash of emotion dropped in amongst a chaotic tale.
But let’s not take for granted the most important point - the funny. Every story amused me, and all of them were cut off at just about the right time. There were one or two which could even have been longer. After Kurkov’s long disappointment, Frissore reaffirmed my belief that such whimsy (that’s right, I used the word whimsy, what of it?), screams loudest and most perfectly in rich, short bursts.
Next week, it’s the GBRYIR (Gav’s Book Reviews Year in Review). I know it’s the highlight of your Christmas. Don’t even try to deny it.