Charles Dee Mitchell's Reviews > Grab Bag

Grab Bag by Derek McCormack
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May 02, 12

bookshelves: contemporary-lit
Read on May 02, 2012

Grab Bag brings together two of Canadian cult favorite Derek McCormack's short novels. (I get the impression that all of McCormack's novels are short, something I heartily support.)

In Dark Rides a gay teenager growing up a farm boy in 1950's Canada has the occasional sexual encounter and suffers the kinds of bullying and abuse you might expect. There is even the old standby of the piss-filled urinal head dunk. Much more severe and shocking is the negative reinforcement therapy (read: torture) he endures from a doctor he sees when a romp in the hay leaves him with telltale abrasions and bits of grass on his ass. He has a tendency to do things that start fires, like making and selling homemade fireworks. It is almost always Halloween where he lives, and the carnival has come to town.

in Wish Book, set during the Great Depression, the narrator works a variety of jobs, most of them shady and often ending in disaster. In one of the more lighthearted tales, his attempt to romance a salesclerk in a department store via the pneumatic tubes used to transmit payments ends in an explosion of glitter.

McCormack writes in brief, elliptical chapters that keep the reader off-balance despite the sentence-by-sentence precision of the prose.

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