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“Kurt Vonnegut in 21st-century America.”

April 21, 2010

Pretty good review in The Varsity. And thanks to the reviewer for noticing the lack of po-mo gaps. Not joking: It really was my New Year’s resolution a  couple of years ago to cut down on them.

Brian Joseph Davis’s latest is the kind of good that’s so inventive, it’s hard to review without stealing the author’s lines. The short story collection Ronald Reagan, My Father is not so much Raymond Carver from Mars (as the publicity material would have it) as it is Kurt Vonnegut in 21st-century America.

Davis rolls in the excesses of American desire with Twilight Zone–variety sci-fi treated as a matter of course. Many of the stories explore modern metamorphoses: a death-row father turned Frankenstein monster turned right-to-die case; a copy editor turned West Nile Virus patient turned cannibalistic, prize-winning poet. Readers of Davis’s earlier work—the poetry collection Portable Altamont and the novel I, Tania—will recognize a similar sense of humour here, especially with regard to celebrity culture. Davis’s writing has become more controlled, though, with fewer po-mo gaps and more filled-in stories.

Two notable exceptions are the found-art stories “Voice Over,” created from 5,000 movie taglines, and “Johnny,” collected from film dialogue involving this name. While both send up cinema schlock and deliver some of the best laughs, the joke gets tired a few pages in.

These were, however, the only instances in the collection where shorter would have been better. As co-founder and managing editor at Joyland, an online literary journal devoted to exploring the outer reaches of short fiction, Davis has wholly devoted himself to the form with Ronald Reagan. Like with poetry, the brevity of these stories belies their depth. This is a book best enjoyed in multiple sittings, as each piece gives plenty to mull over. But while these stories came back to mind in the weeks after reading—as good a test of writing as any—by the end of most, I still wanted more. Here’s hoping that at this calibre of writing, Davis’s next will reward us with more sustained efforts.—Jade Colbert

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