cover image Needs Work

Needs Work

John L. Sheppard. Paragraph Line, $8.99 trade paper (186p) ISBN 978-1-942086-13-0

Sheppard (Small Town Punk) follows an ingratiating sad-sack hero, Phil Derleth, in this episodic outing about a man starting over. Phil’s wife threw him out of their Chicago home, prompting him to move home to Cleveland with his widower dad, Larry, who calls him “dummy.” At 27, Phil has been out of the Army for a few years, having spent most of his four years of service recovering from a traumatic brain injury suffered during deployment in Iraq. Phil gets a job doing an overnight shift at a discount department store, Buy and Bye, where mopping up a pool of blood in one of the bathrooms leads to a nightmarish flashback. Phil’s injury continues to cause visions, which range from his recently deceased mother to a stray dog that shape-shifts into one of his army buddies. While Sheppard shines at locating telling details and during digressions, as when he depicts Larry’s trip to Chicago or imagines a TV sitcom called That Darned Dad, the plot remains loose and meandering. Though the novel feels underdone, as if Sheppard is approaching a point, but has not quite reached it yet, there’s ample evidence of the author’s talent. (Self-published)