cover image Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys

Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys

Will Self. Grove/Atlantic, $23 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1644-4

Although the title piece in this collection of eight stories by the ever-inventive Self (Great Apes, etc.) is uncharacteristically realistic, in many others Self's signature surreality, inventive wordplay and altered states of consciousness conspire to give contemporary English satire a good Swiftian kick. Often Self's imaginative extravagances, with their obvious, satisfying hooks, serve as odd contrasts to the brash, merciless critiques of drug addiction that frame the collection. The opening story, entitled ""The Rock of Crack as Big as the Ritz,"" introduces readers to a pair of London brothers who discover that the foundation of their house is made of crack cocaine and who embark on an infinitely profitable drug-dealing enterprise. Danny, who won't smoke the stuff, puts his addicted younger brother, Tembe, to work for him. The arrogant rise and desperate fall of each brother is fluidly documented as their story continues in ""The Nonce Prize,"" where Danny is framed for a vicious crime of pedophilia. A gritty snapshot of the British prison system unexpectedly gives way to a twisted satire on creative writing courses and literary prizes. Other stories feature terra firma settings with winningly uncanny characters, such as an English toddler who speaks only Gessh ft Deutsch in ""A Story for Europe""; the 12-foot-tall empathic na fs wealthy Manhattanites depend on for infantile human comfort in ""Caring, Sharing""; or the human-insect housemates in ""Flytopia."" In the tense title story, about a psychiatrist in mid-burnout driving manically across Great Britain, Self cleverly meshes this character's misanthropic alienation with the skank of a doppelg nger hitchhiker. But of course Self's cleverness is already familiar to his readers; this collection demonstrates that his prowess with the distinctly nonfantastic can be as gripping as his most disturbing hallucinogenic visions. (May)