Friday, December 10, 2010

Forgotten book: Troublemakers by John McNally

This collection of stories lies somewhere between the blue-collar melancholy of Raymond Carver and the outrageous humor of Hunter Thompson. His characters (all males in their early teens to thirties) are comically pathetic, living lives that barely hang together.

Teenagers Hank and Ralph appear in three stories set on the Southside of Chicago. They are obsessed with girls (who are all repelled by the two boys) and spend their aimless days and nights on the ragged boundary between adolescent angst and Big Trouble. Roger, a UPS driver, moves blankly through empty days haunted darkly by thoughts of Squeaky Fromme and Charles Manson. Meanwhile, a fellow worker runs a personal ad and discovers the liberating mysteries of "raw carnality."

Far from being bleak, the wonky dialogue and cock-eyed situations in these stories had me laughing out loud. In my favorite story, a debt-ridden young English instructor is beleaguered at work by witless students and an annoying, politically correct faculty and then harassed at his new home by a neighborhood bully. All comes unglued for him at a faculty party where he gets entirely too drunk.

The last longer story, "Limbs," shows McNally stretching himself into something more novel-like, as he explores the disintegrating impact of a murder on the lives of several small-town people. Here there are few laughs, just a dizzying descent into confusion and rage. I loved this book. Still in print and so, I suppose, officially not forgotten, it deserves all the readers it finds.

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