Monday, November 19, 2007

a nobody’s nothings ($12.00 U.S.A.) (Bone Print Press, P.O. Box 684, Hanover, MA 02339)

a nobody’s nothings ($12.00 U.S.A.) (Bone Print Press, P.O. Box 684, Hanover, MA 02339) or
By Denis Sheehan

Review by Pam Rosenblatt

Imagination is a wonderful and effective writing tool – when you use it correctly and don’t abuse it. Denis Sheehan’s a nobody’s nothings is a 160 page collection of short stories, poetry, and “Brain Scribbles” that are developed out of Sheehan’s imagination.

Sometimes the works are morally acceptable and other times they’re outrageous, even
repulsive. Usually, the works contain sarcastic humor and wit.

Through vivid and concrete imagery Sheehan writes about ordinary observations and experiences and, while the reader is following his train of thought, something totally unexpected happens, something which may be good or bad. Let me show you what I mean:

In his “Brain Scribbles 6”, Sheehan has the speaker recall a childhood experience.

When I was in the second grade, my pals and I were
running through the woods playing S.W.A.T. While
playing, I ran right into a tree branch. About three inches
of the stick was in my eye socket and punctured the tissue
under it. I remember screaming my lungs out and seeing
through my good eye the look of pure horror on my friends
faces as I ran by them to my pal’s house.

With such graphic description and element of horror, Sheehan draws the reader into his story, which is confessional but may or may not be fictious. The reader is probably panicking for the young narrator too. But all is not lost in the fantasy world of Denis Sheehan, as the narrator says, “I was one lucky little prick, and I got to ride in a police car with sirens on to the hospital. I needed surgery to remove the stick but everything turned out OK.”

A nobody’s nothing is a difficult book to read. Sheehan writes of harsh realities in a down-to-earth style that makes the reader feel like he or she trying to swallow a very large pill. You know you can do it, and you know that it is there, but you wonder if there’s an easier way to accomplish the task. In Sheehan’s work, he has the reader swallow a lot of large pills, but very few of them make us the readers better. The narrator is generally mean and likes to be that way, except when speaking about his four-year-old daughter. He often gives cute anecdotes when discussing his daughter.

Conversation I had with my four-year-old daughter the other day:
‘Daddy, can we go to the store and by a mermaid doll?’
‘Daddy, why can’t we go buy the mermaid doll.’
‘Because I don’t have any money.’
‘Well, let’s go buy some money, then buy the mermaid doll.’

This humorous story is beautifully written and captures the naivety of a young four year old girl. It breaks up the other sometimes silly but yet serious and irking vignettes.

Sheehan’s anecdotes often make the reader uneasy and often repulsed, but that may be just what he wants to achieve. Such can be viewed in “9 Minutes in the Flophouse”, a short story in which an innocent abused housewife meets with unfortunate circumstances when she flees to a flophouse to escape her husband, and in “The Squeeze”, another short story where the narrator describes a sexual experience with his girlfriend with very graphic words.

In a nobody’s nothings, Sheehan seems to raise the question what exactly is the writer’s responsibility to his reader? Is Sheehan taking advantage of the reader’s faith in the power of the pen and word? As a reader, you trust the author to write good material.

In a nobody’s nothings, the writing style is excellent and Sheehan’s twists and turns
of the stories’ plots are intriguing but sometimes the content is difficult to handle. Sheehan’s imagination is at full force.

Sheehan gives the truth as he sees it. As in “Go Away”, he confronts us with negative and often mean observations. He writes about “Jared, ‘I used to be a fat slob’ spokesman for Subway Sandwich Shops” and “Gas Station attendants who are nice enough to clean your windshield, but leave streak marks all over the place” and “Cops who pull you over for speeding and say, ‘You better slow down when you drive through my town’” and “Inconsiderate maggots who invite me over and insist that I don’t bring any beer because they already have beer, but when I get there, mentioned beer is Amstel Light”. Here, in “Go Away”, the narrator is just a moody son-of- a-gun who is complaining and saying “Go Away” to everyone, including “Anyone who likes a second bite of their sandwich before chewing the first.” This is a funny, sarcastic piece, gentler than other works in the book, and makes the reader think about ordinary situations, happenings, and people in a different light.
His list isn’t short. It never seems to “Go Away” as it is seven pages of insightful insults. He even includes Hillary Clinton whom, he says, “has done nothing to help anyone. It’s time we put her to good use.” He mentions “Terry McAuliffe, former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Not because he’s a lying, cheating, money hungry socialist, but because he can’t string together more than two sentences without saying ‘at the end of the day.” He writes about “Ziggy, the unfunny, ugly, and bald comic strip character who doesn’t wear pants.” In “Go Away”, Sheehan seems to have stopped degrading woman, something which he does throughout the book, until the end of the piece that is. He abruptly changes his train of thought and reveals he doesn’t like “sluts who fart while fucking.”

While the narrator seems like a genuinely dislikeable character, Sheehan creates a character that is actually meaner than his narrator in “A Death Notice and Obituary”. The character is called “Mean” Russ Taff. “Mean” Russ has just been killed by a lawn mower driven by his brother Chester Taff. Sheehan writes:

My fondest memory of ‘Mean’ Russ was the second time
I ever met him. I was attending a bash at Ben’s (Medved’s founder,
who Russ managed) apartment when I made the mistake of
referring to ‘Mean’ Russell Taff as ‘Mean’ Russell Taffy. Within
a blink of eye, ‘Mean’ Russ charged across the room and got me
into a reverse headlock. This effective hold had ‘Mean’ Russ’s
thick arms wrenched around my neck with my face pointing
towards the ceiling. Russ had my body bent over backwards
which took away all of my leverage and left me helpless
to resistance. As Russ gently squeezed my neck, he looked
down upon my face and told me never to make fun of
someone’s name again.

While every reader may think the “mean” narrator finally got what he deserved,
Sheehan once again offers a creative alternative way of thinking about a pretty
black and white situation. The narrator says,

Some might find what ‘Mean’ Russ did as extreme. I think of
it as more along the lines of a ‘tough love’ thing. If ‘Mean’ Russ
had simply given me a slap on the wrist, his lesson may not have
stuck with me.

Sheehan’s a nobody’s nothings is not for the weak and sensitive reader. If you want to read a book that is filled with sarcastic wit, lots of sex, and skillful unexpected twists and turns of content that may be disturbing, this book will capture your interest.

Pam Rosenblatt/Ibbetson Update/Nov. 2007


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