My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Quantum Physics & My Dog Bob by Pat Rushin consists of 2 novelettes, 6 short stories, and 2 pieces of flash fiction. Throughout the collection, beyond-the-pale characters are challenged by the day-to-day struggle of being human. What they learn is often transferable to real life.
Piece by piece (word count):
"Vow" (2300) - a man makes a vow of silence and keeps it. The day I read this I experienced the frustration of how my spoken words were often banal. My thought that day: Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all speak in character dialogue and avoid life's clutter? I often wonder whether my voice adds anything to the discourse or whether I’m just speaking automatically, drawing feathery response after feathery response but never adding depth. Also, if you are searching for a story where the protagonist is essentially mute, look no further.
"This is Just to, Like, Clue You" (7100) - I love the characters. It’s written in 2nd-person which adds fun because of the roommate tension. The conflicts seem a little banal but it’s light-hearted with a deeper twist that I both anticipated yet still found surprising. It's a sweet story, though perhaps it’s dated a little: I doubt if young people buy dirty magazines with the entire Internet at their fingertips, but maybe Kyle is the exception to the rule.
"Quantum Physics & My Dog Bob" (3900) - So, I love the setup and the characters. I like the bet. I like the “Actions speak louder than blueprints” that foreshadows. I liked the inclusion of physics (actually there is a surprising number of scientific references scattered throughout the book), however… I still felt cheated at the end. I wanted to be there more and find a deeper reason. Also, the father is a strange figure: Is he the suffering man whose wife disappeared and isn’t coming home or the ‘not like people do’ fellow at the end? One of the weirdest coming of age stories I’ve ever read (that’s a compliment.)
"Way" (368) - sort of a flash fiction prelude to Spider Rock. The diction is beautiful: “cactus and creosote leeching rock’s blood” - I mean that IS New Mexico’s desert. And “chaps-slapping” & “spur-jangling”… damn.
"Spider Rock" (10300) - A novelette with panoramic cinematographic language. It feels open like the desert and you hear the crunch and taste the dust as you’re stepping through the town and exploring the canyon. It’s an artfully crafted piece that slows down and makes you take notice. I think it was in the alliteration of a dream sequence that I stopped to admire the beauty. It gave pause. The story is also compelling and, though placed in a setting of such endemic hopelessness that there is no future tense, the bonds between the characters overwhelm their struggles. Also, this was my favorite story of the collection.
"Every Goddamn Thing" (4800) - Pat Rushin writes a good alcoholic, especially one who is in denial. This story will turn you on your head, though. A beautiful, enriching piece that takes a cranky sniping character and leads them to the bottom of the pit before opening a door to a new life, one that is still on his own terms. I stopped a moment to consider the parable aspects of these stories. I remember thinking how this starts with the air of Stephen King’s “Road Work” and finishes like an Andrew Greeley tale.
"The Garden" (4100) - Wow. Heartbreaking. Simply heartbreaking. Believable characters whose flaws punish them.
"Call" (3700) - We already read “Call” and have seen Zero Theorem. We love that it’s included here. The sexy neighbor is a lot of fun for when our dirty mind is at play.
"Dig" (600) - This is like the same character from “Every Goddamn Thing,” but he’s having even a worse day.
"Touched" (11600) - This story moved the collection up to 5 stars for me. I love everything about it: the Committee, the Kesey references, and, especially, how the threaded nature of the tale is reflected in the story. I mean… Pat Rushin writing himself into this particular story is risky business. I hope he really does have those keys off his typewriter.
This book earns its blurb credentials without question, but it is also thought-provoking and will leave you thinking about what insane really means in a world where being crazy is a survivor’s trait.
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