Scott Bradfield's 13 stories in "Dream of the Wolf" are strange, weird, bizarre, freaky and right on the money.
In the title piece, a nice man named Larry works in Santa Monica in some hell pit called The Tower Tire & Rubber Co., but lately he's been dreaming of wolves.
As Larry tells his company counselor, "When I dream of the wolf, I am the wolf. I've been wolves in New York, Montana and Beirut. It's as if time and space, dream and reality, have just opened up , joined me with everything, everything real . I'm living the one life, understand? The life of the hunter and the prey, the dream and the world, the blood and the spirit. It's really spectacular, don't you think?"
The counselor doesn't particularly think so. Soon Larry gets fired, his wife and daughter leave him, the frozen dinner cartons pile up, and the message of our own fragmented, messed-up world becomes clear: Stop dreaming of wolves! (And, for that matter, stop being part of the wolves' dreams.)
Too many people right now are too taken up with all the other stuff: Restaurants and bills and weird jobs and shopping and hanging out. There's a terrible hopeless loneliness upon the land.
Our place on Earth is so sad now that even the dogs feel bad. In "Dazzle," the eponymous dog is so overcome with melancholia that he goes off his feed. His distraught family hauls him off first to the vet and then to the dog psychologist.
But Dazzle won't be comforted: "He just felt a sort of vague and indefinable anxiety, a certain fundamental sadness at the inconclusiveness of things. It was the way he felt when he saw a dead cat in the road. Dazzle hated cats, but when he saw them squashed and senseless in the spattered street he didn't hate them at all anymore. . . . Sometimes Dazzle just lay on his blanket for hours, contemplating the meaninglessness of dead cats."
Dazzle eventually runs away, and from this new existential freedom finds Edwina, a decent sort who bears him many a litter in the mountains above the city whence they came. Dazzle learns to try to be content with the limitations of physical life as we know it: "I guess what I'm trying to say about all this nonsense is simply try to be happy with your life and don't worry too much about experiencing it. Let's all relax and enjoy ourselves a little."
Dazzle--with his dog's life falling halfway between mysterious wolf-wildness and the tearing loneliness of humans--has got a pretty good handle on life. But the humans in these stories have lost their grip.
In "Unmistakably the Finest," a girl gives her money to a lady evangelist in the mistaken assumption that the money she spends will come back vastly multiplied.
In "Greetings From Earth" a woman married to a crazy man who spends all his time building things in the basement decides to attempt out-of-body experiences, while her physical shell eats Cheese Puffs all alone in front of her television set.
Some of these stories don't work quite so beautifully. There's one where a kid squishes a mother termite and later explodes himself.
But "The Darling," about a pretty serial killer who finally has to settle down (into the world of Cheese Puffs and frozen TV dinners) is terrific. There is only the one life , the author insists. When we veer away from it, we fragment and self-destruct.
Next: Bettyann Kevles reviews "How Monkeys See the World" by Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert Seyfarth (University of Chicago Press) .