Monday, September 19, 2016

Strange Medicine, by Mike Russell

Strange Books, 2016
141 pp


Huge and head-down, tail-between-legs apologies to the author for not getting to this book sooner.  The truth is that it somehow got wedged in between two other books on this year's must-read shelf and sort of got covered up.  Oh well. At my house books go missing all the time and it could be months before I find them.

The back cover says that these are "weird and wonderful stories for all that ails you," and not only are they weird, they're downright odd, offbeat, and strange, making them just what the doctor ordered at this particular moment in time.

Sometimes I find myself craving stuff like this -- short, almost koan-like stories that make me stop and think after each one before moving on. Even though there are just 141 pages in this collection, you really have to take your time with each tale because author Mike Russell seems to enjoy writing in riddlespeak, which I actually happen to like when I'm wanting something different and off the beaten path.  At the same time, each story also has a point, which in some cases took longer than others to figure out, but then there's that aha moment when the lightbulb goes on.

My favorite story in this collection of eight tales is "Seventy-Two Bricks," a sad, poignant tale in which we discover what it takes to break down walls; "Mr. Dennis and the Universe" is also quite good, in which a man hates the whole universe for reasons I won't divulge, and I also really enjoyed "Brain," in which a professor opens an Institute for the Propagation of Rational Thought.  Actually, I liked them all, but these three stood out for me.  Also included here are a story about man who goes to work each day and follows a routine even though he has no job, a lighthearted tale about a series of telephone conversations, another about a spate of mime suicides, a very short one "The Spy" which made Paul Auster's New York Trilogy momentarily flash in my head, and finally, a strange tale about a girl with a fish growing out of her shoulder.  Looking through them, these stories may seem sort of nonsensical, but they're good for people who enjoy thinking through what they read rather than having everything laid out for them.

I always look forward to Mike Russell's work -- he's so out there that it's refreshing.

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