Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty: Stories
By Brian Alan Ellis
House of Vlad Productions
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
The dedication reads “For heroes, villains, and perverts.” The stories include drunks, coke fiends, sadistic children, disastrous love triangles, and two creepy sex-obsessed losers. Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty: Stories by Brian Alan Ellis stands true to its name. Ellis lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and the down-and-out redneck psychopathy shines through. These stories lack the polished prose associated with middle-class First World Problems. Everything here is downscale and rank with failure. But make no mistake, this isn’t all doom and gloom. For anyone who enjoys Trailer Park Boys or Shameless (UK or US versions) will understand where Ellis is coming from. Desperation, failure, and violence make for great comedy.
The stories encompass a variety of foredoomed characters. A couple come across like snapshots, while other stories read like novellas. “Kool-Aid” is a hilarious and nauseating inner monologue by a horny cokehead. “Holiday Diner” is a quiet meditation on loneliness and sexuality, at least until the waitress pulls out her gun. “Proposal” is a tour-de-farce, an epic love triangle involving a con man, a heartless mother, and a sadistic little girl. The story rides the fine line between a comedy of manners and torture porn. “The Faggot Story,” beyond the shocking title, involves two bored losers trading violent sex stories. One doesn’t laugh with them so much as at them. But when you laugh at them, it stems from a nervous laughter. First, because anyone who spends their time dreaming up stories of sex, violence, and rape must have a monumentally empty life. Second, these people actually exist, which is no laughing matter. Add an “S” to the beginning of “laughter” and see what you get.
Beyond the shock and the sadness and the impoverished circumstances, Ellis knows how to turn a phrase. The prose exhibits a refreshing raggedness. These are stories about people who don’t read The New York Times Book Review or listen to NPR. Life is a struggle. It’s brutal, nasty, and short. It also becomes a mockery when one is surrounded by beaches and palm trees. Florida isn’t simply vacation resorts and Disney World. The world view can be summarized with a sentence from the last story, “The Floating Mickey Mouse T-Shirt,” “I know he’s lying because instead of telling us about haunting houses and being dead, he goes on and on about typical human being things – like being broke; like knowing there isn’t a chance; like feeling as though you are being brushed away like some repetitious gnat forced to feed off the corn embedded in society’s turd, and so forth.” Real uplifting, huh?
This is the third book I’ve read by Ellis and I’ve come to understand more about the sick, sad world he writes about. Samuel Beckett wrote about tramps and individuals in doomed situations, but he also brought a dark comedy to it. Ellis also shines a comedic light on the same desperation and absurdity of the human condition.
Out of 10/9.0