Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before by Brandon Getz. (Six Gallery Press)
If the last five years have taught us anything, it’s that the world is a strange and silly place. It’s like we’ve been living in a Coen brothers’ movie, and I don’t mean to dismiss the struggles so many people have had to deal with but, in the end, even inside those struggles, there seemed to be a tinge of levity to everything. Things got so out of hand that it was hard not to stop and simply laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Brandon Getz has a new collection of short stories out and I feel like he grasps the current reality of our world. The premises in Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before are outrageous (e.g., a literal demon infestation, an actual superhero with supervillains, a stark white family moving in next door), but they’re all saddled with real human conflicts. This collection finds the heartbreak inside the preposterous. It’s like someone took a collection of Carver stories and gave them a healthy injection of the absurd.
One story that stands out is “Stan’s Taxidermy Express” where a man’s life circumstances force him to work at a taxidermy factory. He’s stuck in the rodent division, putting perfect stitches into rabbits, squirrels, and possums; and while he hates his job, he’s constantly looking for that promotion to the exotic animal room, or maybe even the amphibian and reptile room. We get these great little taxidermy details that round out the setting and make this man’s profession a reality.
Throughout the story, he thinks about what his life could have been like if he didn’t get married or if he didn’t have kids. At times, he yearns for this alternate existence—mostly when he’s looking at a co-worker he’s attracted to. This is the “grass is always greener” conundrum most of us have to deal with in our daily lives. We’re constantly thinking about “what could have been,” which makes this story relatable, but by setting it in a giant taxidermy warehouse, Getz heightens it. This job is odd, but not too odd.
Getz nails the balance between the wackiness and the human core, so while we’re reading a story we’ve seen many times before, we’re also reading something wholly original.
This collection finds the heartbreak inside the preposterous. It’s like someone took a collection of Carver stories and gave them a healthy injection of the absurd.
I loved the different oddities woven into Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before because they allow Getz to continually break the mold. He offers us stories with the same emotional turmoil we’ve experienced before but adds twists to make them feel new. On top of that, Getz is a damn good writer.
“Our Hero” is told from the perspective of the newspaper staff in a smallish town looking for noteworthy news stories to keep their operation afloat. Before the superhero shows up, they were flailing and doing everything they could to sensationalize every story that came their way, no matter how mundane. Then, the hero saves their business. They have a new subject to write about and the newspapers start flying off the shelves. But then, after the hero moves on to other cities in need, their newspaper suffers again. So, they do what any rational human would do: they turn themselves into supervillains to bring him back.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Risen Apes: All In
- Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise LXXI: Remove the Plastic
- Communiqués From Geezerville: Musings About Death
This is a fun and engaging idea, but what takes it a step further is the steady hand Getz crafts it with. He’s employing the multiple first, which is a hard technique to pull off, and he absolutely crushes it. We feel and empathize with the speakers even though we’re not getting to know them on a deep, individualistic level. We are judging them purely on their actions. And, even then, in some small and weird way, we are rooting for them to extinguish the good guy and come out on top. In lesser hands, I would have simply said, “Oh, that’s a clever idea.” But here, I’m thinking about the larger implications our actions have on our lives and the world.
All the stories in Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before are a treat. They offer something new and unique that lures us through the whole collection and, really, begging for more. What I would like to do is write a paragraph for every story and gush about each, but no one wants to read that. Instead, treat yourself by picking up your own copy.