Review: Odds and Ends / Author: Dustin LaValley / Publisher: Raw Dog Screaming Press / Release Date: March 15th
With story titles such as Dead Hooker Blues and Midnight Drives, this visceral collection of flash fiction from NY author Dustin LaValley juxtaposes the sentimental and the macabre to create a dark picture of modern man. Not full-blown horror, but horrific enough to get your attention, this is a strange, experimental book, but luckily LaValley and publishers Raw Dog Screaming Press have seen fit to release it as a free eBook. Illustrated in monochrome by tattoo artist Jody Rae Adams, this is fringe fiction at its best, ranging between angry introspection and tenderness towards killers.
As experiments, the prose here succeeds more often than it fails, but there are some stilted moments of artifice, certain phrases that jar you from your enjoyment. The problem is that LaValley paints such vivid pictures of suffering that I didn’t want to be reminded of the writing itself, I wanted to lose myself in the images. The bleakness in Odds and Ends reminds me of Hubert Selby, Jr, and this is the quality that I’ll be looking for when I read LaValley’s sustained prose – I want to see the consequences for his characters, the holes that they dig for themselves and their inevitable fates.
The narrators in Odds and Ends are seldom blameless for the situations that they find themselves in, invariably inhabiting dark, brutal worlds. I’ve never had time for flash fiction before now, disliking the brevity and seeming inconsequentiality of such short stories, but here the collected tales have a cumulative effect, hinting at the mind of the author and collectively building a world that I’d be happy to revisit. Reading through the book I travelled with LaValley on endless American roads in the desert, watched relationships come together and fall apart, was trapped with him in a prison cell or at times just by trapped by ennui, unable to act or find a way past life’s mundanity.
As a reader I’m tired of the formulaic nature of modern horror, sick of monsters-of-the-week and moral absolutes. Dustin LaValley is trying to create an antidote to tradition, and by eschewing conventional storytelling methods and popular horror tropes he does just that. Check out Odds and Ends if you’re feeling jaded by the relentless onslaught of the undead; you’ll find a refreshingly modern alternative.