cover image Three Ways of the Saw: Stories%E2%80%A8

Three Ways of the Saw: Stories%E2%80%A8

Matt Mullins. Atticus (Itasca Books, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-0-9832080-6-8

In this debut story collection by filmmaker and multimedia artist Mullins, characters grapple with the potential of transformative experiences. In "Guilty," a suspicious Orkin exterminator reveals the girlfriend of a paranoid, stoned musician to be involved in a shoplifting ring. In "Bad Juju, 1989," a relationship on the precipice of either marriage or a break-up draws the sauced beau, Hal, to a New Orleans cemetery where a wish on a tombstone has unexpected consequences. A storm-beaten honey locust tree in need of felling reveals three characters' inner machinations in the titular story%E2%80%94in short, we meet characters burdened by the past, but on the edge of something new. It's refreshing, therefore, to be vaulted through a concrete present, as in "The Braid," featuring 20-somethings Alex and Sondra, "two of this world's beautiful people...flawless in their faces and bodies." "No sad backstories here," Mullins notes in a bit of tasteless foreshadowing, but after Sondra's scalp gets ripped off in an ATV accident and Alex%E2%80%94acting on a dubious impulse%E2%80%94keeps her oil-stained braid, Mullins writes that Alex is simply "a reminder that everything comes apart eventually, if only to become something else." While relatively innocuous, this passage reveals Mullins' tendency to editorialize on the action, rendering potentially powerful moments self-conscious and stale. Like the beautiful, ruined honey locust, these stories might announce themselves more powerfully if left to fall according to their natural inclinations. (Feb.)