Written by George Singleton
Dzanc Books, 2012
The eleven shorts in Stray Decorum are often simple and commonplace in terms of setting and conflict. However, there is a richness in the characters that Singleton depicts here that is extremely rewarding for readers. The first story, “Vaccination,” begins at the veterinarian’s office while the protagonist, Edward, takes his dog in for his vaccinations. With the most excellent first line in a short story I have read in a while, the story begins, “My dog Tapeworm Johnson needed legitimate veterinary attention.” In the first several pages, the reader is treated with a trip through the interesting and specific ethos of Edward: that of one who respects veterinarians more than human doctors; one who is extremely suspicious of microchips implanted in pets; one who names their dog Tapeworm Johnson.
“But my dogs never feel the need to roam. People who know me—people who don’t show up unannounced with a stray wondering if it’s one of mine—know that my dogs somehow understand boundaries. They show up at my house for a reason, then settle in. Dogs seem to sense things we cannot fathom. They know fear, sure, that’s all been documented. But they also know what kinds of people won’t feed or pet them if they (the dogs) run out into the road or chase birds on a whim. Dogs know good music when they hear it, too.”
As far as fiction (especially short fiction) goes, I don’t generally seek out comedy. I prefer fiction that is visceral and gritty. So, I’m typically sifting through the steady stream of fiction flowing out of the South. That’s where you’ll consistently find your viscera and grit—not that satire can’t be cathartic and revealing of universal truths that we hope for in good fiction (John Swartzwelder’s short novels are great if you’re a fan of a The Simpsons). I wouldn’t categorize Stray Decorum as specifically comedy or satire, but Singleton’s humor permeates these stories. The humor and delicate social observations serve as the laces that hold these stories together, that elucidates who these characters are and where they fit in the scheme of things. Which, by the way, is exactly what this collection is about: people who are lost, strays, searching for where they belong. And like the animals we are so attached to, these characters want only to belong to someone or something or someplace.
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