Each strange but humorous tale from David S. Atkinson’s Not Quite So Stories feels like a small adventure into a world trapped between the familiar and the uncanny. A pattern establishes itself quickly, each story having some exaggerated component in an otherwise normal setting—such as, a woman finding that her car engine has been replaced by a cymbal clapping toy monkey (“Monkey! Monkey! Monkey! Monkey! Monkey!”) or a man whose house puts an ad out in the paper looking for a new homeowner (“Home Improvement”). The reader will come to expect some odd twist to present itself in each story and anticipating that twist becomes half the fun.
“When we were together she was just another subdivision starter home sort of place. White-painted wood siding and asphalt shingles, that sort of thing. Cookie-cutter, bland and cheap, just like every other house on the block. Somehow since she’d been on her own, though, she’d developed into a forty-room Tudor mansion with textured plaster and alpine themed carvings on the eaves.”
None of the places or characters in the book connect from scenario to scenario, yet are all connected through moments of absurdity. This gives Not Quite So Stories a Twilight Zone kind of quality to it—a feeling that all of these narratives are possibly happening in the same slightly off center world. It’s fun to imagine that Mr. Rictus, the sentient and murderous teddy bear from “60% Rayon and 40% Evil,” could possibly exist in the same universe as Charlotte, the neurotic house wife who must take a prisoner into her home, in “Domestic Ties.” Purposely or not, Atkinson creates a whole world to explore with his book, a unique quality not always found in short story collections.
“Tristan originally bought me in Canada. According to my information, it was a tiny little gift shop in a Southern Alberta border town. Personally, I have no firsthand experience; I was not aware at the time of my purchase. I was merely a stuffed bear. All I know is what Tristan told me later though it is worthwhile to note that he did not know I was actually listening at the time.”
The stories themselves range between about three pages at the shortest and eleven pages at the longest, most of them about five to six pages long. These small doses of bizarre yet charming narratives make for a reading experience that never seems to drag or get bogged down. Beyond that, the text itself has a rhythm to it, each sentence floating along into the next in a way that feels simplistic yet playful. With the completion of each tale comes a feeling of satisfaction and the desire to consume whatever story comes next.
“As run of the mill as a jury duty notice, only it notified that the state would be requisitioning the use of her home for the purpose of providing shelter to a convict. The prisons were impossibly overcrowded, the letter informed. Unable to determine any other immediate solution, the state had no choice but to place prisoners in private residences.”
David S. Atkinson’s Not Quite So Stories is a quick and highly entertaining read filled with cleverly crafted storylines and delightful eccentric characters. If you are looking for a book to break up the monotony of the week, Atkinson most certainly has your back with this one.