Friday, November 9, 2007

Mark Spitzer Reviews PARIAH TALES

Pariah Tales
by Jack Phillips Lowe
Onzo Imprints
$3.00, 76 pp

Jack Phillips Lowe's Pariah Tales is a ten-story collection based on the theme of being a loner and/or being lonely. Whereas some of the characters lean more toward pariah-tude than others, though, what interested me the most were the stories that involved threads of the supernatural. For example, "The Buried Moon" is about a not very likeable tomb-raiding professor who busts into the treasure chamber of a pyramid only to get laughed at and called names by a long-gone ruler of Egypt. This was an ending I didn't expect, and another thing I didn't expect was a stark-naked Bo Derek perched on the hood of car cruising down the highway in a story called "The Wisher," in which this guy picks up a hitchhiker with the power of making the impossible possible. A strange exchange takes place and the story continues after it quits in a semi-Twilight Zone kind of way.

Lowe is an innovator and he isn't afraid to experiment with new forms of fiction. One story is told totally in an answering machine monologue (complete with dates and times and subliminal info gleaned from extrapolation) and another is a semi-absurd footnoted translation from a time capsule in which people in the future are advised to basically thaw out a guy named Spazz (who used to be "a high school dropout" and "beer sponge"), then

Get together a group of your smartest young people, guys and girls, of all races. Sit Spazz down in front of them, and have them ask him a bunch of questions about our time. The questions should be about stuff like education and morality, gender and race relations, children and family, and war and peace. If he starts to babble on about how great a wide receiver he was in high school or about the time he almost met Seka, smack him. Otherwise, you'll be bored as hell.

Readers are then advised to take careful note of Spazz's responses, then "smash in his head with big rocks," and do the exact opposite of everything he ever said.

Then there's the story of Jim Neuland, who isn't as much of a pariah as he is forsaken by society, or, perhaps, such a loser he can't even find asylum in church. He goes home (when everyone knows you can't go home), gets run off of sacred ground by a crotchety old nun, then gets the door slammed in his face by an oldster he thought would remember him. Because this guy is a nobody! Yep, a suicide waiting to happen.

Somehow, however, we keep reading on, rather than slitting our wrists. And when we do identify with a character, some bitch throws tea in our face. But then we meet a pissy curmudgeon with a stupid wife to whom he admits his infidelity while they are stalled in traffic, and she calls him on his years of bullshit just in time for sabotage to kick in because the geezer shorted two Mexican kids for washing his car. In the end, poetic justice is served. But that doesn't mean that all the stories in this collection end so satisfactorily—which is one of the charming features of this work. Especially in an age when people are tired of the crowd-pleasing coda. Because let's face it, darkness is also in demand.

Anyway, the stories are colorful and imaginative, sometimes realistic but sometimes more along the lines of psilocybin. As a narrator, Lowe still has a lot of energy and he engages his audience, sometimes even slaps us up. And we like it. We want more—from one extreme to the other! Because we all have a bit of pariah in us—a glimmer glizzened by our author, who plays on our weaknesses just as much as our strengths. The weakness, however, are always a lot easier to see, and much more fun to read about. Especially when the subject is us, but reflected in the mirror of somebody else.

Copies of Pariah Tales are available from the author at: Box 39, Addison, IL 60101 USA (checks payable to J.P. Lowe).

–Mark Spitzer