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Dick Cheney Shot Me in the Face*: *And Other Tales of Men in Pain Kindle Edition
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By Timothy O’Leary
252 pp. Unsolicited Press
In the opening and title story of his engaging collection, Timothy O’Leary returns fire, blasting the S.O.B. Cheney with true facts spun out by a fictional victim in a most entertaining way. As with all of the stories, O’Leary’s exuberant, fast-paced style bobs us down rivers of his savvy takes on the cultures, pain, fun, fears, and realities of our time.
“One Star” gets into the heads and hearts of a struggling immigrant restaurant family and struggling, married, U.S. born customers disappointed by a declined Groupon. A drunken Yelp-like review exposes a cleavage too often exploited by politicians and leading to consequences both sides regret.
A has-been sitcom actor was content with his life of booze and pussy as a travelling stand-up comic until he is blind-sided by an up-and-coming talent using the technology and tools of today in “Hecklers.”
A widower who avoided cell phones and blames them for the death of his wife takes another look at his departed wife and the phone’s benefits when the neighbor boy shows him a video of her at her best in “The Tower.”
Each story in this collection is a gem of thought, language and craft. Together, they process and contextualize the world around us from the perspective of someone who has been paying attention for the past four decades.
Personally, I finish about one in every nine books I begin. I finished this one in no time. My biggest criticism is that I wish there were even more than eighteen stories.
And in the midst of many sweet and funny stories, there are chilling tales of some truly “bad hombres”: an abusive father on a hunting trip, a sheriff pursuing a pedophile, and a kidnapper.
Throughout the book, O’Leary tackles big issues like homelessness, immigration, racism, and the dangers of social networking that took me from laughing to gasping. Highly recommended.
Literary habits swing many ways. While I was an English teacher, fiction was the steady diet of my efforts in class and non-fiction was my personal choice when the school day was over. Our curriculum was rich in classic and contemporary literature—drama, the novel, some non-fiction, and poetry from specific Norton literary surveys. An occasional short story would punctuate time between longer works, but with few exceptions, most high school curricula short-change the short story form. It wasn’t until I retired and tried my hand at writing short stories that I realized how puzzling the form is, especially in establishing some coherent subject matter to explore. Part of the beauty of the short story form is that it gives license to break free from form and plunder point of view and story motivation. It wasn’t until I read Tim O’Leary’s smart, punk-ass, and off-kilter collection of short stories—Dick Cheney Shot Me in the Face—that I realized that the short story is supposed to be a puzzle, much like its subject matter.
This collection, subtitled—“And other tales of men in pain”—is a steady diet of male neurosis with a large dose of sympathy for nearly all of its characters. A wise choice for men AND women to read, there’s enough headroom in this collection to accommodate one’s own special brand of neurosis, regardless of gender. The best part of O’Leary tale spinning is his prose style, with observations and turns of phrases that are simultaneously familiar, dead on funny, and jarring.
In the title story, after being shot in the face by ex-VP Cheney, O’Leary’s protagonist explains: “The scalp is a big bleeder, and when there’s that much blood you can’t tell how hurt you are. I mean, nick your leg with a chainsaw you can at least see if it’s still attached…” He then goes on to eviscerate Cheney as the draft-dodging war hawk he was, without making it sound political. It’s a personal story and he keeps it that way, crawling under the nature of a true coward.
In “Adolph’s Return,” Hitler is reincarnated as a cow, and his chief henchman, Himmler, also a cow, chastises him for not facing his perpetual fate as a recurring farm animal. Somehow in this state of karma Hitler finds his "Thousand Year Reich.”
We journey with a father initiating his son into the rite of passage of hunting in “First Kill. Drawing portraits of characters of particularly ugly resolve—the father and his buddy—O’Leary is more interested in building the macho dynamic in painful detail than finding absolution in this father-son conflict. His son, Justin, a kid any normal parent would be proud of, has accumulating designs on how to face himself and his father, who forces the confrontation. The son’s darkest contemplations regarding his father, as a brutal contrast, seem reasonable compared to the primitive behavior of the adults he has to endure on this hunting trip.
“Fake Girlfriend” follows the trajectory of delusion, which often is pursued by people who want to be in love. This story chronicles the desperation of such desire. Brian creates a digital configuration of a girlfriend—Monica—and then is caught in a Mobius strip of cyber lies and self-deceit until the lie folds into an inability to separate reality from delusion. The lengths that Brian goes to stage this fake romance blueprint the universal conceits about wooing. As a consequence, the underlying motifs that detail the faux-blissful tales and events that constitute falling in love, suggest that reality is not far from delusion, especially when the recipe for love is so stale, predictable, and may give real lovers indigestion.
The entire book hinges on strangeness, which is often the only reason to read anything. As strangeness stands outside of normalcy, it is normalcy O’Leary explores and discovers that the only cure for a right turn is a left one. He takes us to a wealth of characters we’ve all met, but allows us to sympathize with the vulnerabilities of growing up in a culture that tries to arrest the strangeness from us, and in failing to do so, sanctions the kind of behavior that the reader has to endure to understand the virtue of sympathy.
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