Doyle’s writing is energetic and absorbing, zipping by at a kinetic pace to create a consistent punchiness in these short, at times perversely magical stories. Yet for all the promise in the prose and the eccentric premises at the heart of the majority of these pieces, their storylines and characters don’t always deliver the kind of impact their openings suggest.
The collection begins with a series of perhaps the finest examples of Doyle’s streamlined prose when it is soaring on the wings of one of his wild ideas. It starts with “Insert Name”, a story about nonuplets who exist as interchangeable selves in the world, sleeping in the warehouse of the job they work, zooming into and out of the lives of the women they date. It’s a brilliant piece of premise, prose, and promise delivering a magnificent short story.
Wild Imagination, Slightly Unpolished
Then comes the poignant “Waterfowl”, about a boy whose mother is watching him feed/torment ducks along a pond, featuring these insightful words about how parents can be blind to the faults of their children: “Most mothers do not see the sons and daughters they have.” Soon after, another of my favorites, a flashy short titled “A Four-Letter Word for Exchange”, whose ending was a gut punch when the main character says, “We’ll drink too much, make fools of ourselves, and fall, once again, just short of perfection.” The biting realism and gut-clench payoff he is able to achieve through these short early pieces is laudable, stylistically impressive, and something aspiring flash fiction writers ought to take note of.
Unfortunately, thereafter the wild imagination behind the stories sees fruition less often, perhaps the most disappointing of the bunch a story about a cuckold for the invisible man, whose wholly imaginative construction is let down by the characters within it not living up to the story world’s possibilities. While never boring, and at times still delightfully subversive, the entirety fails to live up to the promise established by the opening stories detailed above. A little more polish and some of the longer tales later in the collection could have been gems.
As it stands, these fearless stories are worth the journey, whatever their faults, if only to recognize Doyle’s ability to show us any number of foreign planets while by the end cleverly grounding us back on our dingy ball of earth alongside his whacky, messed-up characters who, for all that the tales spun about them might be fanciful, all too unsettlingly resemble ourselves.
Scoundrels Among Us will be published by Tortoise Books on October 1, 2018.