“Fortune Box” by Madeleine Swann
On sale here.
There’s a scene in the television series LOST where one character puts forth the idea of a large magic box, and when you open it, whatever you want to find inside is there waiting for you.
I love LOST. But nobody’s talking about that thing anymore, so let’s move on.
Now, imagine opening a much smaller box left on your doorsteps by an unknown sender, but what you find inside is something you need but don’t want? Or something you thought you wanted but which quickly proves itself to be a nightmare in reality? These are the central motifs that drive Fortune Box.
The book’s short-story format often acts as a sampler – a demo for several high-concept ideas that mightn’t have cohered well into a novel or novella – with the stories getting progressively weirder as you read on. There’s some nice characterisation, with each of the collection’s nine main players displaying plenty of nuances to help flesh them out. These characters are developed incredibly well considering the small amount of page-time each one gets, and the book as a whole covers a wide spectrum of personality types and unique human experiences, even if some are more relatable and engaging than others (my favourite story might’ve been one involving a relationship therapist and a boiler).
Some of the stories felt like they could’ve used a bit more of a resolution, though in another sense, the open-endedness often worked in their favour; maybe the feeling that such stories need more of a “twist” or a definitive resolution is more an issue with the mood of each current reader than a statement on the quality of the writing. Although I do think the epilogue was a bit cryptic. Such enigmatic scenes are something you’d either hate or love about bizarro fiction, or perhaps both at once. I think this book might be set in the same universe as another of the author’s works which I haven’t read, but don’t quote me on that.
If you’re after a mix of slice-of-life storytelling and fragmented ludicrousness with a pinch of poetic justice, unwrap Fortune Box today!
“Aunt Poster” by John Wayne Comunale
On sale here.
What do you get when a hormonal teen boy develops a crush on his aunty, who just happens to be a pin-up poster of a busty model working on a car engine? Feel-good Comedy of the Year, that’s what.
This is a coming-of-age drama about family, sexual frustration, self-discovery (in more ways than one), paranoia and faithfulness, all tied together with hilarious prose and a strong sense of humanity. It describes the experience of being an awkward, lecherous teenage guy perfectly, and at times, I thought it might’ve been the best depiction of such I’d ever read.
The story was maybe a bit too expositional in the first few chapters (perhaps a given seeing as the narrator hadn’t been born yet), and the quotes-within-quotes made it a bit hard to know who was talking at times. Still, the characters were fleshed out just the right amount with plenty of quirks and nice little touches. Even if characters like Father and Uncle aren’t really named, they feel like they could be real people.
If you want to dip your toes into the bizarro genre but aren’t quite ready to be hit by a tsunami of weird, this might be a good place to start.
“Journey to the Edge of the Flat Earth” by Jeff O’Brien
On sale here.
The Earth is like a pizza – if you dig in further than the crust, you may not like what you find…
Or something like that.
I dunno. I’m no expert in pizza-based metaphors. But if it’s pizza-based metaphors you’re looking for, you should grab this book.
This is a short and quick read, easier to pick up than a slice of Meatlovers and simpler to digest than a gluten-free variety of that same type of pizza, with something humorously absurd around every corner to keep you chuckling along. It’s like the kind of stories you wrote back as a high-school kid where you made yourself a “chosen one” protagonist – sacrificing none of the wonderment, albeit with a more adult sense of satire, irony and cognisance.
It’s a tale of nostalgia and childhood pop-culture fanaticism driven in a vehicle of science fantasy tropes, like if Seth MacFarlane had written Piers Anthony’s “Virtual Mode”. In fact, some of the jokes might be hard to get if you’re unfamiliar with the specific element of pop culture being referenced, although the book’s real charm comes from the fact that it’s self-aware enough to apologise to the reader for making a reference they mightn’t understand.
Despite the book’s short length, I still think breaking it up into chapters could’ve helped with the pacing. I was also expecting more of a twist at the end, like the reveal of some much greater secret at the edge of the world, or at least a more explosive climax. Or maybe that’s exactly what I got and I’m just remembering the book wrong. You know, Mandarin Effect and all that.
Minor gripes aside, this was a fun read throughout, light and fluffy like a puff-pastry crust but with the meat and sauce of a- Look, just read it.
I write weird and/or wonderful fiction. Find my novels here.