Clay McLeod Chapman, Author, Tami Oldham Ashcraft, Author . Hyperion/Theia $21 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7868-6737-0

This debut collection reveals a playwright's fondness for edgy, frightening setups. Chapman—who got his start as a playwright at the age of 12 and later honed his one-man act at the International Fringe Festival—takes as his form of choice a sort of transliterated monologue. This ingenious device diverts at first, but few of these vignettes—they're not quite "stories"—progress beyond establishing a bizarre or ironic situation, and many read like half-cooked campfire yarns. There are some clever sketches demonstrating what the others might have become with a lighter touch and more polish. The unholy carnival of "Rodeo Inferno" is enjoyably creepy, and "Second Helping," about a pack of Cub Scouts run feral, is gleefully gruesome. But the book is marred by heavy-handed language, as in "Honey Well Hung," which attempts a symbolic conflation of chicken coops and a frustrated, infertile farm couple, yielding such regrettable moments as "Couldn't tell you how many times I pecked away at her, hoping to crack into that yolk." The premises can also be predictable and cumbersome: in the title story, a man who last saw his little girl at a rest stop with his car keys months ago can't figure out the odor coming from his trunk: "I know she's close. God, sometimes I can almost smell her, she feels so close." Actors, spoken-word enthusiasts and camp counselors in search of rough-edged material will enjoy this, but short story lovers should look elsewhere. (Feb.)

Forecast:Sales may see a bump in the New York area, as publication coincides with the opening of Chapman's off-Broadway play.

Reviewed on: 02/04/2002
Release date: 02/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-56511-531-6
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-60514-501-3
Compact Disc - 978-1-56511-532-3
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