cover image Fishnet


Paul A. Toth. Bleak House Books, $12.95 (166pp) ISBN 978-1-932557-09-1

This attempt to give a fantasy title emotional legs winds up with some major fabric runs. A depressive trust-fund baby, Maurice Melnick begins painting again after a 10-year hiatus, attempting to resuscitate his fading marriage by doing a portrait of his increasingly distant wife, Sheila. Sticking the two in fictional, insolvent Mercy, Calif., Toth (Fizz) sets a significant portion of the book in Maurice's head, where his active fantasy life competes with reality for Maurice and for readers. It's a conceit that fails as a substitute for a compelling plot, motivations and fleshed out characters. While the dialogue occasionally flickers into life, it also dips into pretension and is badly imported from various vernaculars, particularly among the stunted supporting cast: Holly, Sheila's ex-roommate with whom Maurice has remaining tensions; Albert, a deadbeat pining for his Norwegian ex-girlfriend; Zach, the burg's alcoholic mayor; and Larry J. Phipps, a dysfunctional musician, among others. Each twisted character attempts to absolve their sins and discover themselves before the town's fireworks display-a final attempt at saving a bankrupt city filled with bankrupt lives. As Holly moves to the fore, minor characters flame out and Sheila's health declines, it's hard to care much about any of them. The elements of fantasy may be enough, however, to sustain some fans.