cover image The Metaphysical Ukulele

The Metaphysical Ukulele

Sean Carswell. Ig (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-63246-026-4

Carswell (Train Wreck Girl) returns with a humorous collection of short stories bound by a common object: a ubiquitous ukulele that appears in the hands of various well-known writers. The stories skillfully blend true anecdotes and fictitious tales of the lives of authors including Herman Melville, Flannery O’Connor, Jack Kerouac, and Thomas Pynchon, and some of the events described will have readers looking online to separate fact from fiction. The results are mixed; the best of the bunch is “The Bottom-Shelf Muse,” which relates how Raymond Chandler held up shooting of the film The Blue Dahlia with a bad case of writer’s block. Carswell emulates the writer’s hard-boiled style effortlessly. Then there’s “The Incognito Players,” where Kristiani (a Pynchon fan so devoted she has a tattoo that’s an homage to The Crying of Lot 49) joins a New York City–based ukulele group that may or may not include the notoriously publicity-averse author. Though the ukulele conceit seems a little forced at times, Carswell excels at composing compelling, whimsical tales that reveal the human side of canonized authors, gently bringing them down from their pedestals. (May)