Review: The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians

December 31, 2011 at 1:10 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , , )

I first discovered Andersen Prunty a few years ago at a convention where I picked up a copy of his novel Zerostrata. I was blown away by his prose style, his handling of the material, but most of all by his sublime understanding of dream logic. I became an immediate fan.

In this wonderful collection, The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians, Prunty’s surreal narratives weave in and out of logic without ever feeling forced. That’s the gift Prunty provides us: His dream logic doesn’t ever feel random or weird just for the sake of spontaneity. No matter what happens, it feels deliberate, carefully constructed, and beautifully expressed.

The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians features Prunty’s musings on “the twenty-three most painful things in life” including such diverse topics as “relationships,” “fate” and “pants.” Once I started reading, I devoured these stories. There wasn’t a single story among the bunch that I felt didn’t belong here, though I’d like to highlight a few of my favorites without spoiling any of the surprises:

The titular story leads the charge, and is a wonderful exercise in world building. It takes the author mere sentences to lay out a whole sociopathic society for us, the detail dripping from the wheel wells of the drivers who run down pedestrians. Great characters, a fun story and a wondrous dystopian vision.

The Balloon Man’s Secret is easily one of the best short stories I’ve read in the past year. Poignant, amusing and written in a stylized way that establishes a time and place that seem familiar yet uniquely distinct. The character of the balloon man, and the people he meets, are absolutely wonderful, and the story wraps up so perfectly.

Prunty hands out an excellent dose of body horror in Teething, as short and pointed as it is unsettling. The ending, once again, was piercing and perfect.

But these are only the smallest handful of the goodies that await in this collection. Andersen Prunty’s shortest stories have a fascinating way of showing us the finer points of a character with great brevity. The Ohio Grass Monster,  for example, reveals the inner workings of a troubled boy by simply showing us how he relates to his hobbies and his friends. What bubbles under the surface, Prunty leaves us to decide. Similarly, in stories like The Champion of Needham Avenue and Where I Go To Die, the prose is simple and alluring, even though the situations themselves are dreamlike and bizarre. The stories leave the reader with a sense of understanding and familiarity even though the place and people are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. This is how Prunty’s dream logic operates, and it’s an amazing thing to behold. (I should also mention that The Champion of Needham Avenue might have the best opening line of any story, ever).

I highly recommend this stunning collection to anyone interested in short stories, especially those who enjoy lucid dreaming. The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians is like a lucid dream in which just after you’ve gotten control, everything changes and shifts, and you don’t trust the characters standing next to you even if they look like someone you know. They might just be something painful in disguise.

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