Review: Dead Animals, by CS DeWildt

6 Sep


So I’d read and loved Mr. DeWildt’s Candy and Cigarettes about a year ago. And, I’d been vaguely aware that both before and after that novella was published he’d put out a lot of short stories. But, for whatever reason, I’d never read any of them. So one of the great things about buying and reading Dead Animals is I finally got a chance to catch up.

As you, my loyal readers, know, I only review books that I adore. So, of course, I adored this book.

It’s great, it’s illuminating, it’s poetic, it’s totally original and totally delightful. Why? Let me tell you.

You know how a lot of lit, even good lit, still seems to be about other stories, other books? Does that make sense? So often it is the same old things: the same settings, the same characters, the same language, the same conclusions — just filtered through a new writer’s voice.

That is NOT the case here with Dead Animals. Every story here is about a person and a place and a situation that could actually exist but that — as far as I can tell — has never been told, has never been sketched or painted before. I dare you to read this book and find a cliché. Seriously, try it.

Sure, DeWildt casts his eyes on some familiar territory: relationships, families, compulsions, sexuality, violence, but his lens has a totally unique and different focus.

Example: the story Shakesperian Variety. This is about a math teacher who cannot help himself from lusting after the high school girls he teaches. He loves them, one in particular — Michelle. He and Michelle get very involved and the story turns nasty but only briefly and then ends in an almost banal way.

Or Love Among Apes. Sure, maybe there has been a great story  before about a man afflicted with delusory parasitosis before this, but not that I know of, and, if there was, it was nothing like this one.

Corbin’s Dreams Take Flight at first could, I guess, seem like any another story about red neck trailer trash. I mean, it does take place in a trailer park, and, the people are plenty trashy, but, wow, this story has details and shadings of such characters that are brand new — believe me. Plus, a really good guy gets a bird’s beak glued to his fingers.

You Just Never Know Where It’s Been is the story of kind of an asshole who spends a little time in jail for beating up a girl and while in jail has a poignant homosexual moment involving piss. It’s actually quite lovely.

That Boy Got Dynamite in His Hands is one of my favorites. In about a 60 minute span of time the worst possible things happen to three sets of families. I love that.

The Yard Sale is really just a love story. Really. I could feel it.

The third paragraph of Tu’s Chicken begins with this sentence: “Dad had killed four people in his life.” What follows does NOT disappoint.

My second or third favorite is The Tree House. In this story a boy spends the summer after the end of high school up in a tree house acting crazy. Three of his long-time childhood friends come by one night to try and talk him down. It doesn’t work and one of the friends starts to act really crazy, in a really new and original way. It’s completely shocking.

Presents in Lieu of Child Support, here is the first paragraph:

My little brother was born on X-mas. Dad said he must have been Santa’s baby because the kid sure as hell wasn’t his. Then Dad left. I remember being so mad at Santa for screwing up my family that I took all the presents labeled with my name and burned them out in the backyard. To this day I associate the smell of lighter fluid and melting plastic with snow and X-mas.

Even a Face Can Be a Canvas is about an intellectual-artistic type guy who gets humiliated by a girl and beat up by some non-intellectuals while out drinking. It’s pretty good.

Other than quoting really long passages, or entire stories, I don’t know what else to do to make you want to read this book. You get that it will change how you look at things, right?




One Response to “Review: Dead Animals, by CS DeWildt”


  1. Praise for CS DeWildt’s Dead Animals | Martian Lit - January 12, 2014

    […] Mike Monson calls Dead Animals “great… illuminating… poetic… totally original and totally delightful.” He adds that the book “will change how you look at things.” […]

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