Genre: FICTION (collection of seven short stories)
Title: SCREWING THE POOCH
Author: J.B. BERGSTAD
The best thing about this collection of short stories is the author’s outstanding skill at character development. I’m a huge fan of books that are character-driven; in fact, much more so than plot-driven. The reason for that? Well, if the characters captivate me, then I’m happy with the story, no matter what happens. And Bergstad’s seven short stories are definitely page-turners, for exactly that reason.
Screwing the Pooch features stories built around themes such as coming of age, romance, truth and humility, alcoholism, rape, murder, horror and redemption. In virtually all of the stories, the author employs characters that leap off the page, along with compelling narrative, vivid use of sensory scene setting, and rich metaphors, successfully drawing us into his worlds. A couple of his stories required extensive backstory, which the author was able to skillfully disperse, yet not detract from the story flow. Ask any writer, this is not easily done. The first tale, Milton’s Pickle, has a coming of age theme revolving around a seven-year-old boy who comes to terms with a neurotic, imbalanced mom and schoolyard bullies. The next story, Bear Claw at the Coffee Caker, is a romantic tale involving a blind ex-football star and a waitress with a damaging and shameful past. The Puppy Murders is another coming of age story, dealing with boyhood bravado. I particularly liked the way the author handled the prepubescent dialogue and emotions. The fourth yarn, called The Brass Rail, was my favorite: a naked and shocking yarn about an alcoholic. Bergstad knows the disease of alcoholism well and it shows in this gritty, realistic portrayal, which culminates in a very sobering ending. Rot Like Me, the next story (and my runner-up favorite), is just Pure-D ol’ fantastically written horror. The author treats us with his excellent grasp of locker room banter and some chilling, gruesome scenes that’d make Stephen King squirm. And just when you think the horror has ended, there’s more to come. The sixth tale, Dear Daniel, deals with a letter from a remorseful father to his son and harkens back to the 1950’s: cherry hot rods, Ethyl gas, Glasspack mufflers, drive-in movies, Lucky Lager beer, ‘church keys’, and Pall Mall cigarettes. Toss in the horror of a hit and run accident and you’ve got an engaging premise. And the final story, Hank Straker, SA, starts out as a depressing tale of unendurable loss but ends with an ironic twist and a terrific, satisfying ending.
Well, by now you’ve probably guessed that I’m recommending this collection of short stories. In all honesty, I have to tell you that I thought a couple of them ended a bit too abruptly, but it didn’t matter because the author’s superb character development and scene-setting skills completely compensated for it. Pick up a copy of Screwing the Pooch. You won’t be sorry.
Recommended by reviewer: Jan Evan Whitford, Allbooks Reviews
Published by: Woodside Publishing Group Books. ©2007, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-615-28406-4 Trade Paperback