The Awful Possibilities

Christian TeBordo‘s sometimes maddening, frequently ingenious, and always engaging collection of short stories hits the ground running with a tale of an aborted school shooting, swerves through a series of bizarre encounters among what can only be described as mentally disturbed individuals, and slams head-on into the first-person account of a young girl who’s fallen in with a gang of kidney thieves. To put it bluntly, TeBordo’s take on life — at least as reflected in this collection — is as grim and twisted as it is complex, hilarious, and mind-blowing. What’s more, what he offers isn’t simply schlock for the sake of schlock. Yes, there’s a boy in the bathtub, sans kidneys, encased in ice, and, yes, there’s a cache of guns in the backyard, but these images are couched in the context of the real-life horrors of contemporary society: there’s nothing in this book that hasn’t been on the evening news a few dozen times. The difference, of course, is that TeBordo uses fiction to try to make sense of it all, or at least to have fun (in a gallows-humor kind of way) trying.

To underscore the connection between TeBordo’s fiction and the horrors of our own broken world, the book’s design (by Zach Dodson of Bleached Whale, who does really wild and amazing stuff with book design) is perfectly suited to the tone and themes of TeBordo’s narratives. As the cover (pictured) suggests, we live in a poisoned world, a notion that Dodson develops throughout the collection by inserting a part-whimsical, part-horrifying picture postcard between each story. As with the book’s cover, the postcards depict oil-slicked landscapes and offer a series of odd missives between a pair of mismatched lovers: “There are so few uses for Crisco that to keep it in the house seems an unnecessary temptation,” explains a health teacher explains in one note. “I wanted to go home,” says a correspondent in a subsequent postcard; “The feeling didn’t pass until I had deflated our child so that it would fit in your bag.”

Bizarre? Yes. But in the best way possible. Indeed, I’d place The Awful Possibilities in my top three fiction collections for 2010, along with Don’t Smell the Floss by Matty Byloos and If You Lived Here, You’d Already Be Home by John Jodzio. Though not for everyone (and what is?), all three of these titles are perfect for anyone who loves to watch fiction push the boundaries of and between language and reality.

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