cover image Haywire


Thaddeus Rutkowski, Starcherone (SPD, dist.), $18 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-9842133-1-3

These flash stories are mostly gems. Each but a few pages long, they are further broken into tiny bits, each a moment of observation or action narrated by a biracial young man (father is Polish-American, mother is Chinese-American) whose coming-of-age is divided into three parts. While many of these 49 stories have been previously published, when collected and presented chronologically, they maintain a consistent voice and arc that holds true through to a wobbly conclusion. Part one treats the narrator's childhood, dominated by his dad, a stern and misanthropic but loving role model, wrangling with an eye doctor after waiting a long time for an appointment, killing squirrels for dinner, driving a bookmobile. The narrator's college years, covered in part two, are comically lively and include drug mishaps, a trip to Mexico that's laughably far from hedonistic, and the loss of his virginity. Unfortunately, part three, his adult years, loses steam and feels much more scattershot. Unlike a lot of flash fiction, which tends to be built around a conceit or written toward a punch line, Rutkowski's best moments crackle unimpeded by self-consciousness. (Dec.)