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Grab Bag (Little House on the Bowery) Paperback – January 1, 2004
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""Grab Bag" culls the best of the perverse and innocent world of Derek McCormack. The mystery of objects, the lyricism of neglected lives, the menace and nostalgia of the past -- these are all ingredients in this weird and beautiful parallel universe."
-- Edmund White
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Derek McCormack is one of those treasures that Canada and the Canadian literati keep hidden under a bushel. It is probably due to the GBLT content of his works, which, as a genre, has yet to be anointed for consideration by any of the major awards.[Among over two dozen awards there is not ont GBLT award]. Indeed, when Dark Rides was first published, Globe and Mail's book critic, Laura McDonald, had this to say:
"Derek McCormack's first published work, Dark Rides, was released in Canada this summer to little notice. It had three problems: It was slim, it was issued by a small press and its writer was unknown. Fortunately for McCormack and his readers, Dark Rides received more ink in the U.S. where, to be fair, there is more ink. Detour magazine even included him in its `Top Thirty Artists Under Thirty' list. Why? Well, cynics might dismiss the book as trendy - a gay coming-of-age story. But anyone who reads the book closely will attribute the success to his skillful, tight-rope walking prose."
- Laura MacDonald, Globe & Mail
Grab Bag is a combining of two McCormack novellas, Wish Book and Dark Rides. Wish Book is set in the depression era of the 1930s, and is a bizarre romp through as list of situations and circumstances that defy probability, and yet could have happened.
Dark Rides is set in the 1950s (an era I am nostalgically familiar with) and is the story of a teenage, Canadian farm boy trying to come to grips with his homosexuality. Regretfully he has less than a minimum of sophistication and no one to turn to in a small, roughneck community. It is a dark plot in some ways, and yet it is humorous on account of his naiveté.
I once read that successful writing is at once unique and universal, and this applies fairly well to McCormack's style. It has a refreshing difference that almost defies comparison, and yet I was able to identify with the farm boy's naive character quite well. Even the small community and its denizens were familiar to me.
Journalistically, McCormack is a minimalist. There is no superfluity or long poetic narratives here, only the bare minimum to tell the story and define the characters. Yet they were as developed as any I have read. They are a young farm boy and a `slicker,' base individuals in a loveable way, and so too much development would clutter the picture.
Grab Bag is one of those stories that will stay with me long after I put it down. Five bees.
Author: Derek McCormack
Published By: Little House on the Bowery/Akashic Books
Age Recommended: 18+
Reviewed By: Kitty Bullard
Raven Rating: 5
Review: Yet another interesting and intriguing read from one of the authors at Akashic Books. "Grab Bag" was exactly what it promised to be, one short story and a `grab bag' of various tales that ranged from humorous to somewhat macabre. These stories are sure to have you asking.... "Why?" "What the heck?" and "Seriously?" Still you can't help but find them superbly intriguing.
Warning: There are moments of intimacy that many may not wish to read. Do not get a copy of this book if you are easily offended.
At any rate, McCormack's writing is so precise it burns a hole right through you. These little sentences, pared down to stilettos that pierce the heart.
When I compile a short list of the writers whose work means most to me, he's usually on the list someplace. The stories in "Wish Book" are uniformly nasty but varied otherwise in tone, intention, mood. The older stories, from "Dark Rides," have I think a bit more melancholy and a different conception of formal experiment. Which you will prefer depends on your mood. As the French say, especially in Canada, "c'est bonnet blanc et blanc bonnet" (half a dozen of one, six of the other). I wish Amazon gave out more stars than 5. Let's see.
McCormack's style is very minimal, with words chosen carefully to paint a uniquely dark picture, something akin to a Ray Bradbury story. The problem sometimes, though, is that the style takes precedence over the story, as in "Wish Book" which took me a while to figure out what was going on. Overall, this is a good colleciton of McCormack's novels, with the first being much stronger than the second. An interesting read.
McCormack writes about dark and precocious young characters and takes written snapshots of their dark fantasies and abrupt interactions with the world around them. This world is set in rural Canada, in a Halloweenesque wonderland. McCormack's prose is short and sweet, detailing the sexual fantasies of a gay teenager, absurd morality tales of psychiatric trips and haunted hay rides.
GRAB BAG is amazingly complex and multi-layered. Yet, the book is an easy read. The prose is short, abrupt and to the point. The only details are the necessary ones. In a way, GRAB BAG feels like an experiment, spoken word fiction without poetic beats. McCormack is a master with his short-short fiction, able to introduce and submerge the reader in crisis and an unsentimental conclusion within a few paragraphs. I wouldn't trade it in for the world.