'Funeral Platter' effortlessly captures the absurd

Thursday, October 5, 2017 - 7:40pm

Greg Ames, the author of “Buffalo Lockjaw” — a novel that won the 2009 Book of the Year Award from the New Atlantic Booksellers Association — has written a collection of short stories that might be one of the most absurd collections of the past few years. The only way I can think to describe the pace of “Funeral Platter: Stories” is to say that it moves like the galloping horse in every horse movie you’ve seen, at the moment the plucky protagonist aims too high and rides the wild horse that everyone warns can’t be tamed.

The characters in every story of “Funeral Platter” are unhinged; many of them have cast off the cloak of propriety and run around as if naked (not literally — for the most part). Many of them have no filters, either verbally or mentally, and we are privy to their most bizarre, uncomfortable thoughts. They are eccentric, erratic, sometimes ecstatic — and the style is stripped down to match. There are no unnecessary stylizations, just stenographic observations and dialogue that moves feverishly.

The first story sets the tone for the rest. A blind date — or what seems like a blind date — begins to take peculiar turns the second both people are there. At times, it feels like we are witnessing an eyeroll-worthy quirky meet-cute, but it never builds to that recognizable rom-com crescendo; rather, they argue, and make up, and argue, and make up, and each time it gets more and more confusing as to how either of them got here. The ending leaves you even more bewildered than you were in the middle; and when looked at retrospectively, the beginning makes no sense either.

Stories that could be cute are missing the glossy facade that would make them so. One story is told from the point of view of a wisecracking thirteen-year-old who thinks his crossing guard returns his romantic affections — their significant age difference is but a gauntlet thrown down by a society determined to keep the star crossed lovers apart — but he isn’t exactly the most likeable of incorrigible boys. In another tale, a man casually dismembers himself as a form of revenge against an ex girlfriend, recounting each of his self-inflicted wounds, growing in severity, with savage satisfaction until he dies; you can almost hear his maniacal laughter. Another man follows an elaborate five step plan to get a wonderful girlfriend to break up with him (this one is eerily reminiscent of “Fight Club”). The final story ends what the first one begins; it is a tale of two idiosyncratic old lovers for whom “till death do us part” is but a challenge to be laughed at.

Some of the stories are more outlandish than others; even the ones that would be depressing are often just too baffling to be so. Where other authors have worked tirelessly to capture the pathos of the human condition, Greg Ames has effortlessly captured the absurd.