By Ben Arzate
Scoundrels Among Us is a collection of 29 stories covering a wide berth of genres and styles. There are realist stories, metafictional narratives, dark humor and pieces consisting only of dialogue.
Several of the stories take the form of a sort of bent fairy tale, such as the titular story. Five “scoundrels” enter a town and storm into the Mayor’s office. The leader of the scoundrels, calling himself “Cunt,” proceeds to interrogate the Mayor about his name and murder the other scoundrels when they interrupt. This darkly humorous tale about the nature of names encapsulates what most of the stories are like. They’re often absurd, philosophical and very funny.
Another story in this vein is “Dangling Joe.” A man suddenly appears floating above a city. Numerous attempts to pull him to the ground fail as his body always jerks away from anything that tries to grab it. However, he seems unperturbed about floating in the sky.
This sets off a debate that this man, nicknamed Dangling Joe, is either some kind threat or messiah. Because Dangling Joe refuses to speak, he becomes a target both of scorn and deep love. Eventually, however, people get tired of him because all he does is dangle over the city.
This seems exactly how the news cycle functions in modern times. An event is made out to be the biggest event of all-time, much ado is made about picking sides on the issue, then it’s quickly forgotten for the next thing.
Many of the stories have a metafictional aspect to them. This is especially true in what’s probably my favorite story in the collection, “If The Invisible Man Dies and Nobody Sees It, Does He Really Die?” The story is written as a first draft of itself with crossed-out sentences, hand-written notes, and corrections in the margins.
The story is about an amateur boxer, also the one writing the story, who is sleeping with the wife of a man who mysteriously becomes invisible. The invisible man finds out but encourages them to continue their affair. Eventually, the boxer tires of the invisible man using his state to trick and harass him, and beats him possibly to death. In the notes, we see the narrator’s amateurish attempts at being poetic, his attempts to make himself look better, and his uncertainty in even telling his story.
“D.T. Myse’s Cold Blood from a Scorched Cat: Sweet Whiskers in the Grip of Death” is written in the form of a review of a book. The book reviewer spends an unusual amount of time focusing on things like how the book is shaped, its design, and how it smells and reveals they aren’t even able to retain the actual contents of the book. Eventually, the reviewer realizes that the book is just a carrier for something horrible.
“Slice of Moon” is one of the realist stories and one of the most compelling “shaggy dog stories” that I can recall reading. A man named Bernie who is anti-social and unmarried suddenly has a daughter seemingly out of nowhere. Everyone in his small town suspects that he’s kidnapped the child but nothing seems to prove that either way. The story answers none of the questions it raises about this strange character or his mysterious daughter but remains an entertaining and thought-provoking piece.
Scoundrels Among Us is an excellent collection full of funny, fascinating, and unusual stories. Despite having a wide variety of genres ranging from realist, to horror, to metafiction, it still reads as a coherent whole with Darrin Doyle’s voice. If you enjoy short stories, I highly recommend this collection.