Dogwalker (short stories)

After reading advance praise from some hot current writers (David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers, Zadie Smith and David Sedaris), I was eager to check out the short stories of Arthur Bradford, a tall, lanky former Austinite who physically resembles your average Phish tourhead, complete with long stringy hair, mutton chops and acid-diet physique. I was only mildly disappointed but had laughed quite a bit by the end.

Bradford’s stories are simply written tales abounding with freakish characters whom his pet-loving narrator encounters throughout daily life. Told in plain, concise (almost Carveresque) style with perfect pitch, these slacker tales are buoyed by an extremely funny but subtle sense of humor beneath. Bradford’s best stories resonate with a dreamlike tint—plots so strange as to seem true. It’s as if Hemingway were coming down off mushrooms at a zoo.

In “The House of Alan Mathews,” our cool and collected male narrator goes to buy some hash from a dealer, gets high, then overhears a small, adult person trapped behind a little door. The tense story paints an eerie portrait of stoned malaise with over-the-top jibes at utopian culture.

Strangely, three-legged dogs are some of Bradford’s most common characters, and in “Dogs: My Unsettling Secret, part 1” the male narrator has sex with his girlfriend’s “sleek hound-mix,” who gives birth to a litter of puppies and a little human boy who (after being abandoned) masquerades as a muskrat and comes back to sing classic ‘60s songs before he is mistakenly killed by another dog.

Overall, these oddball short stories resemble nothing more than the cleverly humorous work of a standout creative writing student. I hope Bradford will take his piercing, economical style a little deeper next time (he already has an HBO documentary film deal), though his likeable young narrator here, a drifter-type who calmly navigates the truly weird, is enough of a memorable character to recommend this book for those looking for kooky new fiction.