BY SEAN CLARK

Author: Bradford Morrow

2011, Pegasus

Filed Under: Short Stories, Literary

The Uninnocent is a collection of dark, but not morbid, stories which grow from or end in acts that on the surface seem quite vile: fratricide and murder, incest, animal cruelty, etc. Through skillful characterization and just the right quantity of acerbic humor, Morrow manages to take topics rooted in drear and craft enjoyable stories. Plausibility is not always there, and sometimes the plots work out a bit too conveniently, but as long as realism isn’t what you’re looking for, you’ll come away from this collection quite pleased.

My favorite of Morrow’s techniques is a temporal slight of hand he pulls a few times. He’ll set something up, then subtly skip ahead to an outcome, leaving the reader tantalized. For instance in the space of a page from “Ellie’s Idea,” we learn three things about Eleanor Mead: she is (or at least was) married, then that she is in some sort of moral if not actual trouble, then that “Waking by herself still felt strange.” What she’s fretting over and why a married woman is alone is left for the story to fill in. Similarly, in “The Enigma of Grover’s Mill” the teenage narrator, in talking about a girl he’d been spending time with, mentions kissing her “again” in the first reference to them ever kissing–leaving a big gap for the reader to fill in. This does a wonderful job of helping to characterize this secretive loner of a narrator in particular.

“Grover’s Mill” is probably the best story of the bunch, not only for the above moment. It’s put together well structurally, and also quite engrossing from a story standpoint. Wyatt’s father drowned himself during the broadcast of Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” radioplay for fear of the invading Martians (Grover’s Mill is the setting in which Welles version takes place, and the center of the real-life hysteria that it effected). His mother orphaned him not long after by drunkenly drowning herself in the same pond that swallowed her husband. This leaves Wyatt with his grandma and Franklin, a pompous know-it-all who Wyatt believes is pulling a con on his grandmother.

Wyatt (like the unnamed narrator from “The Hoarder,” and nearly all the book’s other main characters) is a bit of a delinquent weirdo who sees the world differently than those around him. But he’s not a bad person. He means well, and does a fine job of articulating his thoughts and emotions in the narrative. This is a recurring motif in the book, perhaps what Morrow means by uninnocent: his characters experience terrible things and perform terrible acts, but there’s a sort of purity at the root of it all. This book is full of monsters, but these monsters are some of the most human characters you’ll come across.

Other stories–like “(Mis)laid,” which uses an (almost) schizophrenic amount of parenthetical statements to characterize its (control freak) hostage-taker protagonist, or the title story which tries its best to tell a confession story without ever revealing what exactly is being confessed to–work to greater or lesser effect. None of these conceits drags a story down, but none really lift any above average either. On the whole this is an enjoyable selection of stories. The subject matter is dark for sure, but there’s a lot of positivity buried in here. At turns funny and touching on poignancy, it’s a book fans of short stories slightly edgier than you might find in the typical New Yorker should give a shot.

Similar Reads: The Outlaw Album (Woodrell); Give Me Your Heart, Tales of Mystery and Suspense (Oates).

[A review copy was provided. This book is currently being advertised on the site, I was unaware of this when writing the review.]

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