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Unlucky Lucky Days

Daniel Grandbois

" Between this sentence and the last, a new constellation appeared. Not in the sky, of course, for groupings of stars are not born all at once, but on the sidewalk, where anything is possible. After much debate over angles, the constellation of gum wads was named Pythagoras."

Reviewed by Annie Clarkson

Unlucky Lucky Days is a collection of 73 very weird short stories. Mostly, they are less than a page long and take unusual perspectives: gum, a stain, an urge, a growth, sounds, mirrors, a newspaper all have thoughts and feelings, and are central characters complete with motives, desires and actions of their own. 

The Growth for example is a story about a growth on Aunt Mary, and "The growth wondered what it would be like to hold a hand in the air and clink a glass." The growth imagines itself doing other things, including attaching itself to someone else's neck. The story seems to question why a growth attaches itself to a particular neck at a particular time. It explores the randomness of an illness such as cancer, how it can almost be a living thing. It is a most bizarre perspective, but a powerful one. 

In Toothpaste, Grandbois writes "From the moment I recognized it was Carl's teeth banging around in the dryer I went deaf." This is another surreal story - Carl pulls his teeth out with pliers and puts them in the washing machine because he has run out of toothpaste. It is a neat story, one that makes "sense" in a nonsensical way. Like most of the stories in this collection it requires a non-logical response, one that accepts the weirdness of the situation and responds to it in an indirect way. 

If you are looking for a straight-forward collection of fiction, I would definitely advise to look elsewhere. Daniel Grandbois is not for you. He is for those seeking the absurd or the surreal or the illogical. His brief fictions are almost puzzles that have no clear answer, or Zen Koans or age-old fables and fairy tales with a twist of Salvador Dali. Grandbois uses familiar story-telling devices and subverts them for his own use, as with "Once upon a log…" 

Many of them are new takes on well-known fairy tales and nursery rhymes – the story Hansel and Gretel is echoed in "we didn’t see them again until our return – their bones a trail of breadcrumbs leading us home" (Migration), and Jack and Jill get stuck down the well with two thousand other couples. 

I have to admit that many of these stories passed me by. They felt like silly nonsense and I wasn’t drawn in. I think this is because these stories are meant to be read more than once, given time, puzzled out. I didn't have the energy for man eating frogs, a Spider King called Frank, or a canary called Sunny Side Up. 

However, I did have the energy for a chair that is sure it isn’t meant to be sat on, a left hand that saws off its own ring finger, a house that gets its revenge and many other shorts in this collection. These stories made me laugh, disturbed me and made some kind of weird sense in a way that's difficult to explain. My responses were right-brain ones, emotional ones. They were responses that reminded me of the illogical sense I had as a child when real and magic were the same thing, when imaginary friends could talk, and so could animals and toys. They also remind me of my more bizarre dreams, the ones that make complete sense until I wake up properly and switch on the left-side of my brain. 

In two stories in particular, I feel we are given some direction about the intentions behind these stories. The Author gives us some insight into the births of these stories: 

"I read random pages of books from folk tales to physics, and rearrange the on a shelf. I pick a subject like termites and research it on the web for a phrase, a habit, and trait, like the heads of soldiers being large enough to block passages against intruders." 

Grandbois also responds to any prospective critics in the opening story The Yarn: 

"'Tell us your tale,' said a violin spider obliged from its loosely woven web. 

The yarn stopped in its tracks and laid itself out, as that is how yarns tell their tales. 

'Leaves one unsatisfied,' commented the spider. 'The ending is too abrupt.'" 

These are not loosely woven webs. And neither are they unsatisfying, for readers who are prepared to put in some energy and open their minds.

Read three stories from this collection in Conjunctions

Annie Clarkson is a poet and short story writer living in Manchester, UK. Her first chapbook of short prose Winter Hands was published by Shadow Train Books in 2007.
Annie's other Short Reviews: Anthony De Sa "Barnacle Love"

Laura Chester "Rancho Weirdo"


PublisherBoa Editions

Publication Date: 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Awards: Winner, 2007 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

Author bio: Daniel Grandbois' writing has been described as "Dr. Seuss for adults," "avant-garde standup," and "between Brautigan and Basho." He is the author of the forthcoming The Hermaphrodite: An Hallucinated Memoir (Green Integer), an art novel that includes forty original woodcuts by renowned Argentine artist Alfredo Benavidez Bedova. His writing has appeared in many print and online journals and anthologies.

Read an interview with Daniel Grandbois

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