Cretacea and Other Stories from the Badlands

Martin West. Anvil (SPD, U.S. dist.; PGC/Raincoast, Canadian dist.), $20 trade paper (174p) ISBN 978-1-77214-049-1
This distinctive collection of 11 stories subverts expectations while providing vivid counternarratives. Whatever readers might expect from prairie fiction or stories set in and near sage-lined Drumheller, Alberta, a “right-wing little prairie town dropped in the bottom of the Badlands like a coal mine in a crater,” they won’t likely find it in this atmospheric and often comically oddball debut. There are lonely, hard-drinking guys and sun-baked, windswept vistas, but also a surprising population: a poetry reader and porn film reviewer, pot smokers, pill poppers, eccentrics, and just plain off-the-rails locals. And the Red Deer Valley is depicted as grooving with willing sexual adventurers who enjoy open marriages, swinger parties, and sadomasochism. As memorable as the settings are, West’s stories can be too brief. He creates strange situations but resists exploring them in great detail. At other times, he relies on supposed exoticism to carry the story. More attention to the psychology of the characters and their dynamics would grip readers’ attention with greater assurance. Without that, unusual sexual practices look like decoration or a gimmick covering technical shortcomings. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 01/09/2017
Release date: 09/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
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