Faces in the Fire is a quick and intriguing read in which T.L. Hines very deftly conveys his sense of “noire bizarre” around a curious set of characters, bottom-feeders he stresses, in a nonlinear progression. The characters, a truck driver, an email spammer, tattoo artist and hit man are equally as disparate as the circumstances around which they they cross paths; phantom catfish, haunted shoes, mystical tattoo ink, and a mysterious phone number all contribute to the progression of each character’s interconnected lives.
Hines doesn’t quite offer enough noire to the level out the bizarre. True, it’s a dark and suspenseful enough story but the characters, possessing a sense of anxious desperation, come off as more emotionally exhausted than perhaps darkly humorous or energized. Particularly memorable, though, is Hines’ characterization of Corrine the spammer; he delicately describes a profession and person not normally considered worthy of anything but detest. Hines uses an interesting metaphor of representing the characters’ movement as that of sharks, creatures that can never move backward, but rather only forward in pursuit of their catharsis from years of missed opportunity.
Faces in the Fire is a mysterious and entertaining work which makes the reader think long after the read is finished. Which is, I think, the sign of a well-crafted book.
Reading Dogwalker, a bizarre collection of stories by Arthur Bradford is well worth the short time it takes to transform the mundane into the weirdness we so crave for amusement. All of the stories contained within revolve around Bradford’s attempts in finding some solace from one’s self-imposed boredom and stagnation through stray canines and equally stray roommates. If it means anything, this collection takes place throughout Texas; apparently, there is a lot of weird down there.
Bradford writes with childlike simplicity and whimsy, though his plots border on the uber-strange and even the horrific. Cat-faced carnies, fruit sculpting with chainsaws, blind friends who own cars, and the glamour of giant slugs are just some of the musings Bradford could expound on in greater detail; stories I’d happily delve into when in need of a fresh bizarro-cleanse. Yet he tends to focus on dogs and roommates, and the fleeting affection he has for both. By whatever circumstance, both tend to be maimed, mutated or psychologically unhinged, yet that doesn’t stop him from adopting each for a brief laugh to pass the time.
What is surprising about this collection of stories is the degree of openness or ambivalence set forth by Bradford. While he languidly chooses his own adventure in each, the degree of tension that rises in most of the stories is soon enough offset by a delicate weirdness that prevents real malice from taking over and sending the reader dashing to the nearest bottle of Pepto. Hence, a slight hint of unsettling will envelop the reader, which is exactly what a good collection of short stories is supposed to do. It was a very quick read and stories like Mollusks, The House of Alan Matthews, Bill McQuill, Chainsaw Apple and Roslyn’s Dog tend to linger in my mind, to the extent that I hope Bradford will publish more.