The Washington Post has reviewed my brother Tod’s short story collection SIMPLIFY. They like it. Sort of.
By contrast, the guys in Tod Goldberg’s Simplify
(OV Books; paperback, $14.99) are too busy reeling from various blows
— terminally ill fathers, suicidal sisters, lost brothers — to
reinvent themselves. Many of these stories slide off in surreal
directions as they map their characters’ psychic turmoil. In "Comeback
Special," a man whose wife has left him for his best friend finds that
a photo of Elvis (from his 1968 comeback concert) cries blood and even
changes costumes. The ensuing media circus helps the story maintain its
amusing tone, but it’s not grounded enough in the man’s life to have
much effect on the reader.
Goldberg takes similar risks in other
stories, with mixed results. The narrator of "The Distance Between Us,"
who slowly reveals that his misunderstood brother was a serial killer,
is genuinely affecting in his grief, but the premise ends up feeling
Goldberg’s best stories are told in retrospect, as
if the narrators need psychic distance to fashion their memories in the
most potent form. My favorite is "The Living End," a haunting account
of the summer of 1973, when the narrator’s older brother returns from
Vietnam with strange scrapes and bruises; the story becomes a mystery
that involves the abduction of a Native American girl across the
street. This story has a stable nuclear family at its center — not
stable enough, however, to stave off the enormous forces that conspire
to destroy its children.