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The Mustache He's Always Wanted But Could Never Grow and Other Stories
By Brian Alan Ellis
A House of Vlad Production
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
The short story collection The Mustache He's Always Wanted To Grow But Never Could by Brian Alan Ellis spends an unhealthy amount of time among the great unwashed. The back cover gives this inventory: "schemers, dreamers, losers, boozers, stolen televisions, professional wrestlers, self-mutilators, compulsive masturbators, shoe fetishists, and a dead cat named Johnny Thunders." Amidst the lower income bracket (at least among those that actually have jobs in these stories), the stories range from single-paragraph prose poems to pocket epics of struggle and despair. Luckily one can categorize this short story collection under the genre of bizarro fiction, so at least there will be laughs and some fun involved.
Because of its bizarro lineage, Mustache focuses on a lowbrow attitude spot-welded to tales involving bodily fluids, masturbation, and extreme violence. Those wanting the finely hewn sentences of Richard Ford and Alice Munro will have to get off the bus at the next stop. Included in the collection is a dramatic piece, "Ideas for a One-Act Clown-and-Poet Play." In it a foul-mouthed clown and a foul-mouthed poet hash out their life problems, have too much to drink, and verbally duel. "Loco Mask II" has a moody college teen jealous of her mother's new beau, a professional wrestler. In order to get back at her, he drops out of school and vows to become a wrestler, so he can take off his mask in the ring. "Leftover Heels" tells the story of a woman leaving her heels after a particularly torrid love-making session. Vulgar, fetishistic, and ferocious, it is narrative boiled down to its rotten essence.
While less surrealistic and sensational than other bizarro fiction, Mustache finds the humanity and humor in the people middle class America would prefer not to think about. Luchadors, sex fetishists, the unemployed, and wannabe artistes, all these people cramp the style of proper industrious Americans of a certain tax bracket. As we stumble forward in yet another year of the Great Recession, "class" has become, if not a dirty word, at least a loaded one. One has to gauge one's audience, especially if holes are going to be poked in the nationalist mythology that the United States is a classless, color blind, egalitarian, by-your-bootstraps free market utopia. City on the Hill and all that jazz.
Mustache chronicles the people at the bottom who see no means to ascend one rung up. Some are resentful, some aren't. Some shoot tirades off at the unjust world while others feel the need to satisfy their lusts or addictions. Ellis's previous book was called 33 Fragments of Sick-Sad Living and this short story collection has plenty of sick-sad individuals, one step away from suicide or a venereal disease. But beneath the despair and kamikaze lovers, there is a stubborn, profane, but very American, humanity that animates these individuals. Each story shines like a gaudy piece of costume jewelry. All that glitters isn't gold, but it glitters just the same. Mustache glitters with a violent, sex-crazed lowbrow majesty.
Out of 10/8.5
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