“Best Worst American” by Juan Martinez is another delightful and weird collection of short stories published by Small Beer Press. (If you haven’t read the previously recommended works by Kelly Link, I reiterate my recommendation to do so.) (Apologies to Mr. Martinez for immediately hijacking his recommendation to re-recommend another author.)
Proceeding, then, with the career boost this post inevitably provides and which Martinez indubitably deserves, “Best Worst American” will be appreciated by fans of McSweeney’s (where several of the pieces were originally published) and the sort of stand-up comedy performed by people with hip glasses. (Not the glasses you think are hip, the ones that actually are hip: I do not know which glasses these are; though, of course, the monocle will never go out of style.)
The book opens with a story about a man and his aunt. They live together, in part due to the rest of the family having been killed in a series of plane crashes. The aunt likes to set fire to the man’s stuff. This brings some drama to the proceedings: what will she set fire to next?! Eventually, they lose the child they’re babysitting in an airport, and the aunt sets fire to the man’s jacket. Do they find the child? Is the jacket ruined? You’ll have to read the story to find out.
Several stories sport connections to each other, most prominent are the stories that feature a young man who wears a cape. These are definitely the best stories about anyone who wears a cape to be released, in any medium, in years.
There is also a handy guide to determining the outlook of your relationship based on what kind of kitten poster your girlfriend has. Spoiler alert: if the kitten is smoking cigarettes, you’re in for some heartbreak.
Here is an essay about hobbledeyhoydom, which I’m sure few in the reading community will relate to, but which is in the collection, and provides a taste of Martinez’s skills.
There is at least one story that starts sad and funny and ends up scary. There is another that’s like a “Twilight Zone” episode if it were the length of a commercial. These are stories in which people hope to smuggle their cat onto a bus, people listen to the inane chatter of the plants a departed neighbor left behind. There’s something for everyone: pinstripe suit aficionados will be relieved to learn there are references to mysterious men in pinstripes suits who rule the world.