After the Plains queered him, Dave Madden decided to return the favor. This outstanding collection of short stories tells the tale of a different kind of difference one not set in the glittering lights of New York or Los Angeles, but in the grand and wide American Midwest. For Madden's characters, their queerness is part of the environment, like the soil, the sky, and the supermarket: an HIV-positive chemist uses football to connect with his brothers; a 17-year-old girl tussles with a cartoon cobra to avoid thinking about the mother who abandoned her; and a hotel concierge starts attending Mass even though his partner was molested by a priest. In seeking out the ordinary struggles of extraordinary people trying to figure out their place within families and communities, Madden masterfully explores what it means to be an outsider always looking in.
Dave Madden's stories feel refreshingly inhabited, genuine and warm. The collection contains not one but three title stories, in which we encounter Buddy, the queer kid in the family, whose slightly self-deprecating sense of humor is also remarkably dead-pan and endearing. Each of these stories feels like a town permeated with history and populated with memorable characters. A great first collection, lively, funny and in the truest sense charming.
I reserve 5-star ratings for my favorites of all time, but this is an excellent short story collection with elements reminiscent of Charles Baxter and Charles D'ambrosio at times. Some of are in an intimate, gently meandering, memoiristsic style. The highlights of these are the three vignettes of the title story and "Smear the Queer," all good investigations of psyches that have difficulty connecting with the people they should be close to. Of the less internal stories, "Little Fingers" about a public tv assistant managing a celebrity chef and "Another Man's Treasure" about a put-upon garbage collector are the best. These two different styles of the collection are poles different enough to provide range and variety, but close enough to see the connections that thread the collection together. Highly recommended.
I can be a bit abrasive to short stories because of how "expsotional" they are in nature. Narrator after narrator and characters galore make an introvert like me feel like I was just at several parties and met too many people whose names I can't remember. Madden's story collection didn't have that exhaustion, and it was refreshing.
The stories in If You Need Me I'll Be Over there follow characters and narrators that are so sure of who they are, that they don't "introduce" themselves to the reader. They are characters of action. Thinking might be one of the performed actions. Instead of being focused on pointless anecdotes to try and create a character, or having voicey narrators for the sake of voice, the characters focus on the conflict of the story. Often, in trying to solve said conflicts, most of which created by naturally occurring family dynamics, main characters make the situations worse, further contributing to the book's relatability.
If You Need Me I'll Be Over There is a reading a reading experience that both soothes and moves. For every negative feeling I had over something bad happening to a character, the characters themselves often brought a smirk to my face, because if they don't find a silver lining, they find something funny about the silver. Books that can find that clarity, not just in "these times" but any time, should be treated like gems.
The back cover blurb of If You Need Me I’ll Be over There by Dave Madden says, “Madden masterfully explores what It means to be an outsider always looking in.” Each of the eleven witty, observant, funny, and wise short stories in this collection is wonderfully engaging. If I had to pick a favorite, I couldn’t. I enjoyed all of them a lot. Although I will say that “Pamela,” an inspired choice with which to begin the collection, is one of those perfect stories that you can read again and again with great enjoyment. “We All Have Difficult Jobs” is another standout. At least seven of the stories concern queer male situations. The title story is split up in three parts throughout the collection.
I would like to quote a random line from each of the stories, out of context, to give a hint of the flavor of the writing and to pique prospective readers’ interests.
“Pamela”: “What kind of job can you expect to get with no typing ability? Shopgirl? Streetwalker?”
“Karl Friedrich Gauss”: “Most people . . . picked up their backpacks and put them on their backs but only with one strap because two straps was what most people thought was uncool.”
“Smear the Queer”: “We had this conversation in her office two or three weeks after I began retroviral therapy, and seropositivity was not just a new vocabulary word but also my new status, forcing me to track T cell counts like I once tracked rushing yards and QB ratings.”
“If You Need Me I’ll Be over There ”: “At funerals I look around at the corners of the parlor and the knees of well-wishers in an attempt to remove myself from the situation.”
“An Uneven House”: “This house, she’d worked so hard to make it a home when it was more like an arena where they played out these endless battles.”
“Little Fingers”: “I was a professional woman now with her own phone extension and I had a job to do.”
“If You Need Me I’ll Be over There ”: “Everyone in the crowd stood and turned to watch them go, and I was left there on my own.”
“Another Man’s Treasure”: “Why does everyone else get to be the way they want to be but I do not?”
“Ingendwo, Nirgendwo”: “He read the list for what it was: an off-the-cuff mess to keep listless kids busy.”
“We All Have Different Jobs”: “So what if the body was tasteless and the blood watered thin?”
“If You Need Me I’ll Be over There ”: “That morning I’d joined him in the shower and tried to get something started between us, but he was all business with the soap bar.”
Enjoy Dave Madden’s stories. I hope he soon gives us a new collection.
A very enjoyable collection of stories. The author writes from a diverse collection of perspectives. There is a thread of melancholy humor throughout as the characters face the struggles and absurdities of familial relations, romantic relationships, and self-realization.
Although short stories are viewed as an easier art form than novels or poetry, they are ironically seen as less commercial. Personally, the short story is a higher art form due to its difficult execution. While you can have as many pages in the novel to tell your story however you want, the short story forces the writer to consider the most essential elements that must be placed within the shortest amount of time/pages. And even more difficult than that is knowing which stories best make up a collection. Dave Madden has obviously taken all of this into consideration, which is why this book was a marvel for me to read. This is a great book for anyone interested in story collections, and it's a great work of fiction in general.
The stories were all okay, but there was absolutely nothing to unite them into a single coherent whole. Several were set in Pittsburgh...but not all of them. Lots featured gay characters!...but not all of them. Some male protagonists, some female. Some religious, some not. Just nothing to tie these stories into any semblance of a "collection".