March 2004

Nathaniel G. Moore

fiction

I Can See You Being Invisible by Andy Brown

In this debut collection of short stories, I Can See You Being Invisible, author Andy Brown provides a well-worked glove for the reader to play in the field of disgust, apathy and overall abnormally. Despite its clever title, nothing vanishes and the reader cannot evade the macabre comedy of the self within its pages.

Brown is not miserable; a great portion of his charm comes from his earnest deadpan objectivity. From the beginning of “Something Blue” we are not promised joy: “It was a difficult pregnancy but it took her mind off her grief at losing George. She threw up every morning, felt sick all day. Bucky did all he could to help but there was no reprieve until the baby came. Then it was a different set of problems.”

Brown is a seamless prose stylist who has a screwed up world view for every screwed up character he sends our way. The writer does not appear to be picking on the characters, they are already being picked on when we start reading. For example: “Born without a right arm, little Bucky Jr. got off to the wrong start. As a child he became obsessed with a one-armed baseball player named Pete Gray, who was active during WW II when the league was desperate for players. Gray hit for a .218 average in 234 at bats in his only year in the Bigs,1945.” However, he is shunned by the sporting memorabilia world when he asks for the one-armed ball player cards.

Other character standouts include a colour-blind photographer, a time pusher and his best customer, the grape-picking diaspora, the whippet police, tree planters lost in the slash, and a one-handed mechanic with a reputation to uphold. The range and content of this collection sprawls buckshot from the absurd to the moody. Brown’s characters are not mope-driven, but fundamentally rooted in their stigmata, a curse delivered to them by their creator. In “4 1/2 on the Main," inebriation spills onto the inanimate. While at one point at a bar with Ricky who was “drunk and molesting his most recent acquisition,” Isaak returns home and begins to fall asleep. When he looks out the window the streetlamps are drunk as well and are wobbling. Brown is able to foster inclusive neuroticism that purifies the themes of each demented story. These are demented lives.

However, there are moments of simple humour, for instance when the narrator's sister is babysitting him for the first time in the backyard and a strange drunk old man enters the gate. The narrator is suspicious that this man could be his grandfather. “He calls us names I don’t recognize. I have never met my father’s father, could this be him? I run into the house terrified, locking every door. I strand my sister on the back yard island of the man’s delusion.”

This book of linked stories is teeming through the bars, a zoo-like shelter for deranged characters and their flaws and daily obstacles. Brown is a pimp of the odd, and his writing, the voices it represents, the actions they indicate and the emotions they provide point to one thing: these people have some deeply seeded issues or have been dealt a really crappy hand. That’s not to say that every story within I Can See You Being Invisible is tragedy. Brown’s perversion turns into poetry, and you’ll find yourself wandering back into a passage just for that poetic nuance. And the man has a great ear for dialogue. No one is perfect, no one is good, everyone is just cranky or glad to be leaving.

Prose requires some depth perception, and Brown writes with a lush and dense lens, which is good, considering the amount of pithy writing that is passing itself off in the sometimes shallow waters of hipster word-slinging.

I Can See You Being Invisible by Andy Brown
DC Books
ISBN: 0919688837
188 pages