cover image The Price of the Haircut

The Price of the Haircut

Brock Clarke. Algonquin, $15.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-61620-817-2

In his third short story collection, Clarke (An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England) offers 11 satirical, sometimes surreal, tales that investigate broken individuals and flawed societal expectations. In the title story, emotionally fragile middle-class white men suffering from bad haircuts debate whether to patronize a racist but affordable barber. In “The Misunderstandings,” a family’s dysfunctions inadvertently challenge the local restaurant community and its patrons to rethink their assumptions and beliefs. “The Grand Canyon” airs a woman’s breathless grievances against her new husband after they honeymoon in a tent near the famous national park. In “What is the Cure for Meanness?,” a teenage son attempts to differentiate himself from his abusive father by giving his mother a series of gifts that only make things worse. The narrator of “Good Night” struggles to accept affection without caustic commentary. In “Our Pointy Boots,” soldiers on leave search for relief from the horrors of war in a distant, fond memory they all share. Clarke’s disquieting, droll work reflects humanity like a dark fun house mirror. (Mar.)