[Here] Richard's darkly carnivalesque cosmos gets even bleaker....most of the stories in this black little volume set the reader adrift somewhere between nightmare and opium dream.
...Richard's baroque plotting and opaque prose belie the heart of a sentimentalist. The best stories in the collection...deftly illuminate the most primary of emotional experiences....Sometimes [however]...Richard is no less an exploitationist than Barnum. The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The desperation and loneliness of poverty-mired and deadend lives are reflected with pathos or shocking black humor in Richard's second collection of 10 short stories (the first was the PEN/Hemingway Award-winning Ice at the Bottom of the World). The diversity of tone and vision in this collection keeps the reader reeling. Richard's distinctive prose, segueing from terse sentences, Southern-cadenced "y'alls" and casual profanity to lush, Faulknerish arabesques, reflects pain, bewilderment, bravado and resignation--but never the facile epiphanies of characters who have the leisure to think about the emptiness of their lives. Some of his characters are children or teenagers born into poor and isolating environments who, like the protagonist of his novel, Fishboy, find themselves even worse off when they try to escape than they previously were. In "Memorial Day," a boy hoping to ward off Death--a talkative spirit who wears "white pants and a white dinner jacket"--from his dying older brother, is himself seduced. In "Gentleman's Agreement," a weary father, too poor on a firefighter's wages to pay a doctor to take the stitches out of his son's injured head, does it himself with pliers, "snipping and tugging at the black silky thread that had bound together the torn flesh." In "The Birds for Christmas," two orphan boys who have not been invited from the chronic ward of a state hospital to a home for the holiday ask to watch Hitchcock's The Birds. At movie's end, the narrator admits, "It was Christmas Eve. And we were sore afraid" of the future. But there is justice too, as in the surprise ending of "Where Blue Is Blue," a story in which the bizarre--the mangled body of a circus contortionist washes up on a beach--is rendered with commonplace detail. Richard's imagination generally encompasses the bleak, the raunchy and the eccentric, but he goes over the edge in "Fun at the Beach," a tale with characters so hilariously grotesque that it takes a strong stomach to read about them. While he is indisputably a master of words, Richard's stylistic legerdemain will appeal mainly to those willing to follow an author down a dark and slippery path.
In his second collection (after Ice at the Bottom of the World, LJ 4/1/89, and the novel Fishboy, LJ 5/1/93), this PEN/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award winner chooses subjects that are anything but mundane. Instead, Richard reports on a young female contortionist's murder (she is killed with the blades of a motorboat), two men who search for their missing father on a 22,000-acre beach reserve, and two young boys who want nothing more for Christmas than to watch the movie The Birds as they wait out their days in a hospital full of burn victims and the seriously impaired. In that story, "The Birds for Christmas," salvation comes through the help of Sammy, himself a former patient whose "botched cleft-palate and harelip repairs were barely concealed by a weird line of blond mustache." Richard writes with mordant humor, bull's-eye descriptions, and clever wordplay, but he really proves his talent with characters and narrative situations that bring to mind those of Charles Bukowski. Pungent, bizarre, totally beyond the pale, these stories will appeal to readers bored with what passes for mainstream fiction today. Recommended for all collections.--Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN
...Richard's baroque plotting and opaque prose belie the heart of a sentimentalist. The best stories in the collection...deftly illuminate the most primary of emotional experiences....Sometimes [however]...Richard is no less an exploitationist than Barnum. -- The New York Times Book Review
[Here] Richard's darkly carnivalesque cosmos gets even bleaker....most of the stories in this black little volume set the reader adrift somewhere between nightmare and opium dream. -- Entertainment Weekly
After the mixed reception of his first novel, Fishboy, Richard returns to his strong suit, short fiction (The Ice at the Bottom of the World): stories (all have appeared previously in high-profile venues) that display a singular talent, with a rich and versatile style, ranging from tough-guy lyricism to the more defining tales of sad and forgotten children. Such is the title piece: the abandoned boys on a hospital charity ward transform themselves into wild animals in order to escape the horrors of their lives (in a modern turn on Ovidian metamorphosis). The other boys on a similar ward, in 'The Birds for Christmas,' have a much simpler desire: to watch Hitchcock's shocker on Christmas Eve. 'Gentleman's Agreement' relies on a mean parent to provide the pathos: a forest firefighter who submits his disobedient son to some cruel lessons. In a more surreal mode, Richard cooks up a little voodoo on the bayou, when 'Death' argues with a little boy, who mistakenly assumes the reaper has come for his feverish brother. Meanwhile, the lowlife tales here rely more on the accumulation of scuzzy details: 'Where Blue is Blue,' full of freaks and grotesquerie' and also a perfect film scenario is told by a boozy, glue-sniffing no-count who helps a buddy rig a fishing contest, and also cover-up the murder of a sideshow contortionist. Also set at the seashore, 'Fun at the Beach,' is a wild fantasy of white-trash antics mixed with vampirism. Richard forms a single sentence ('Charming I Br, Fr.dr. wndws, quiet, safe. Fee') into a menacing and manic narrative about insomnia. 'Plymouth Rock,' on the other hand, is in the voice of a drunk loser who still lives at home, andhangs around in a Jetsons robe all day while his brother works for the Secret Service and considers him a security risk. Whether goofy and substance-addled, or strangely naive, Richard's original voices invite you into a world that's both sad and surreal, and always worth the stay.
From the Publisher
"Richard's original voices invite you into a world that's both sad and surreal, and always worth the stay."
Kirkus, starred review
"Indisputably a master of words...."
"There are few writers today whose use of language is as sure, whose dialogue is as quirky, funny and true as Mark Richard's."
The Wall Street Journal
"A book of memorable language and moral power. Mark Richard sees far into the hearts of the lost and voiceless people who seem to be everywhere among us, awaiting recognition."
"You feel a wonderful physical mind in the work of Mark Richard...I love his work."