The Reviewed: Steal Me For Your Stories by Robb Todd
The Reviewer: Joellyn Powers
There was a quote in a recent Lawrence Welk skit on Saturday Night Live that said something like, “Isn’t love beautiful when it’s gross?” I’m bringing this up because I believe it aptly describes Rob Todd’s nauseatingly wonderful story collection Steal Me For Your Stories. I don’t mean “nauseatingly” in a bad way, but in a good way. Sometimes it’s good to feel sick while you’re reading. Then you know what you’re reading is real, because it hits you in the gut.
Steal Me For Your Stories is a collection about love, and how love is mostly not wonderful, but painful and, well, gross. The opening story, “Our Costume Is a Kiss,” follows a couple who for Halloween dress as that famous photograph of a soldier passionately kissing a nurse at the end of WWII. It’s an iconic image that Todd turns on its head by having the real story be about the male figure’s rocky past with his mother and the news that she is dying. A bomb has just been dropped on this man’s life, just as bombs were dropped in Japan signaling the end to one side of the war, but beginning an entirely new set of warlike conditions for another country. Because really, when you think about it, no one knows the true story of that famous photograph of the soldier and the nurse, and if we think about it too hard, we might not like what we actually see. That is exactly what Todd excels at in his writing: opening up the easily visible into something not so easily viewed.
Life is gross, and Todd does not shy away from any of the gritty details. In “Drunk Dynamite Fishing” a bachelor party travels to a South American country and wreaks havoc in more ways than one. They drink and eat and fuck themselves into an oblivion that is so very American, it is hard to read any further. Although we all may not recognize ourselves in these men, they are nevertheless engaged in activities that exploit a country they do not even understand. In “Proof That God Loves Us And Wants Us To Be Happy” a man sits in a run-down bar and observes the young and hot bartender that serves him. Her body and demeanor are one thing, but on closer inspection her story is so sad and lonely that when the man must excuse himself to use the restroom due to a painful anal fissure, what he sees come out of his body is not the most revolting thing the reader has seen in this story. And in one of the last stories, “Quiet The Remedies,” a couple goes about their day: having sex, not having sex, arguing, eating, just sitting. At one point the girl says, “I know you are just going to steal me for your stories,” and it feels like the entire world of Todd’s collection is encompassed in that one line, not because it is the title, but because what his characters have observed throughout the pages come together and unite into one, solid vision.
This collection is fantastic and dark and funny and, yes, gross. It’s more than just reading about people doing every day things; it’s reading about how we live within our own lives.
Joellyn Powers (Books Editor) will be entering the MFA program for fiction at American University this fall. Her work appears in Bluestem, Twelve Stories and Metazen, among others. You can follow her on Twitter @hipsternonsense, or on her blog about nothing at especiallyfreeing.tumblr.com.