Zine, Dustan J. Hlady, middleofnowhereshortstories.com, [email protected], $5 or trades
A dark night of the soul, rendered on the sidewalks of Saskatchewan. This is the short fiction of Dustan J. Hlady. An erstwhile youth pastor, Hlady is now branching out as a writer, and in this zine he’s going straight for the dark stuff.
The zine is half-sized with black and white cover illustrations by Taylor Yee. Hlady’s three short stories follow separate protagonists through night walks in Saskatchewanian cities, each with their own respective malaise. Crystal in Saskatoon stumbles blearily through an aimless night, hounded by a marriage she regrets. Kevin in Moose Jaw ruminates on his life-sucking job through an intensely unpredictable night. Will in Regina has gam- bled away everything and stoically trudges home to his unsuspecting family.
Each of Hlady’s discontented late night strollers has a unique voice. Their inner monologues, as well as encounters with street characters, hint at deeper, richer stories that Hlady could delve into, even if some of the language is underdeveloped. You can feel shades of the characters’ black moods, mostly in their dialogue with other characters, where Hlady has a natural sense of casual conversation, but the real existential crises that it seems Hlady wants to put on show are more hinted-at than fully exposed.
A nitpicky criticism could be made of the text formatting. Each character’s dialogue is rendered in different fonts. While this makes it easy to discern when different characters are speaking, there are some unusual, obnoxious font choices that are actually difficult to read.
Hlady’s willingness to delve into dark places with his characters is commendable: the reader can compare the three voices grappling with a life that apparently isn’t as it should be. More nuance in his narrative work would help match the realness of his dialogue and bring the reader further along into the depressive road his characters travel. (Joshua Barton)