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One of the early fixations of youth is listening to your own heartbeat. As a teenager, it is amplified by media in the selfish hope of monetary recompense. It can become a sonic boom of self-destruction if it continues past juviedom, making a whining punk who blames everything but himself for his failures and pain. “I'm special” is the anthem of this short story collection's best characters. The author herds them up and displays them in one of the most bizarre side show attractions you'll ever find. This is the Darwin Awards pumped full of illegal substances.

Like SaladMan with his cauliflowered ear and “the carrot emerging unicorn proud from his forehead” (Eraserhead Press, ISBN 0976249839, c.2005, p.12), and his friend, Jamie, planning to wear his brain in a box, so he can be accepted by the Body Modification Royalty and join “The League of Zeroes”.

Or the pathetic idiot in “Dissociative Skills” who snorts horse tranquilizers and hari-karis himself so he can see what he's made of. “I am in control. I made this happen. I own my life”, he chants. “Try to accept this. Laugh at this , Mom” (Ibid, p.23). He thinks he's “brought them together” (Ibid, p.24) just because his parents hold hands over his wound to staunch the blood loss.

Fortunately, not all of these victims blame the outer world for their misfortunes. Tyler in “Saturn's Game” who is running from the repercussions of biting off his friend's nose, says, “we are not a fucking heavy metal song, we are not a Goddamn Oprah Book-Of-The-Month story, and we're not a made-for-T.V.-movie” (Ibid, p.92). But then his father, the Saturn of this tale imagined from Goya's painting, did bury a hammer in his skull when he was younger, causing these, ah, afflictions . . .

So how many times do you need some quick food, and, although there's gobs of greasy drive-thrus up and down the avenue, you specifically wrap your guilty appetite around a Big Mac, even knowing all about the subliminality of the Golden Arches and the horror stories of Fast Food Nation ? “Branded” will re-align your taste buds with a brand-new union.

If you're looking to sway around the campfire singing “Kum Bah Ya”, look elsewhere. Even the quasi-compassion of “Swimming In The House Of The Spa” quagmires with self-pity until consequences hit like a fist in the gut. This author writes with a take-no-prisoners kind of prose that is both lyrical and detestable, especially showcased in the rambling, stumble-down drug odyssey of the last “vicious mental drift problem” (Ibid, p.140) in this collection, “Wall Of Sound: A Movement In Three Parts”. It will be fascinating to see this hoto coalesce a mature style from the left-over fragments of his experiences. I hope he makes better choices than some fellow travelers like Hunter, who just shot himself, and Burroughs, who should have but shot his wife instead, because “nobody trips forever, except for schizos and Italian film directors” (Ibid, p.145).


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