Chapbook, David Menear, DevilHousePress, devilhousepress.com, $15
The dead tree referenced by this collection’s title sits directly in front of The Crossroads bar in Montreal, and is an apt signpost for its contents. As David Menear describes it, the tree “looms there like some dark omen of what lies within.”
Menear’s stories — some are new, some are previously published — are split between childhood reminiscences and in-the-now character sketches, and it’s the latter that entertain the most, in no small part because they tend to head in portentous and smutty directions. Adjectives and metaphors are plentiful here, as is the tendency to veer into abstract territory; several of these fictions open with paragraphs that are so obscure they make little sense until the story’s conclusion. It’s tough to decide whether that’s maddening or charmingly enigmatic.
Understandable closure does always come to these stories, though many lack a discernible climax. Fortunately for Menear, this is a rare case where the lack of a distinctive peak doesn’t seem to hinder enjoyment.In Menear’s bio, it mentions that these stories are from his “first year of writing,” and that reality does emerge, as well the need for an editor. Technique quibbles aside, these stories hold up well for having been written by an apparent novice.(Scott Bryson)