Awkward encounters rule in new novel

Awkward encounters rule in new novel

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Title: Turtleface and Beyond
Author: Arthur Bradford
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Feb. 3, 2015) Hardcover: 208 pages
ISBN: 978-0374278069

Arthur Bradford's newest collection of short stories, Turtleface and Beyond, presents a dozen absurd stories in a hauntingly relatable fashion. He shies away from no taboo, and his stories cover topics including the mentally ill, drug use, profanity, the sex industry and deviating from societal norms.

The titular story, "Turtleface," chronicles the consequences of one bombastic man's attempt to impress his female companions by diving from a cliff. His act of courage is thwarted, though, by the presence of an innocent turtle (later called "Charlotte"), who breaks both his fall and his face.

Both suffer injuries, and the less courageous by-standing friend is left to reconcile the differences between all parties involved.

This author's favorite, "Lost Limbs," features a failed date between a woman with a prosthetic arm and a fully able-bodied man. When the man later loses a leg due to a work injury, the two reunite for another date, which ends in catastrophe.

Bradford's characters are all misguided and unsympathetic (a la John Kennedy Toole's Ignatius J. Reilly), yet recognizable in a, "He sounds just like that asshole at work!" or "I sat next to that guy on the train yesterday!" kind of way.

The author's real talent lies in taking absurd encounters between strangers and acquaintances and pushing social courtesies to the limit. How far would you go for a man on the side of the street? What if he'd been bitten by a venomous snake? Does it make a difference? What about an ex who's fallen into a laughable relationship — is it your place to interfere? (Any normal human would resoundingly say, "Hell, no!")

Throughout the collection, Bradford's characters return again and again to the moral conundrum of under what circumstances am I my brother's keeper?

Though none of the characters prove to be exemplary role-models, they at least leave the reader wondering, "What would I have done?" And, after all, to leave the reader thinking, is a great success for any writer.