Stimulus: Josh Olsen ‒ Six Months
I half expected this book’s back cover declaration of returning to the womb every six months to refer to some transgressive trans-vaginal exploitation film scene. The funny thing about my Rorschach reaction to the noirish packaging of Six Months is that the true meaning behind that line became the thing in this excellent book of one page stories which resonated with me most. Instead of being a tale of sexy sadist slapstick, the title story tells of the author’s biannual returns to his hometown, which is also my hometown.
My fellow expatriate describes the sadness found in returning to La Crosse only to discover that nobody there has improved in any significant way. The only changes to the author’s friends and family are those of age. This saddens him in part because he can’t join in with their lack of success, that he can’t find the old camaraderie and fellowship within shared disappointments, that he can no longer be a lifer. He’s become a visitor, and every six months he leaves the old world behind.
If I hadn’t felt exactly those things about exactly this place, “Six Months” may have simply been one more very good story. But as I’m also filled with that same sort of self-nullified nostalgia for our hopeless hometown in western Wisconsin, the story picked up a really powerful, fascinating sense of despair.
Beyond this, Olsen fills the rest of this quick book with the sort of warped yarns that will appeal to a certain sort of man approaching middle age. Most of these tales are presented as stories from the author’s life, anecdotes about his messed up life and his attempts to square being a respectable father and neighbor with the deviant malcontent (and husband) within. The perv is certainly on display in the showroom, though these tales steer far from becoming grotesque and trans-vaginal, and this warped Ward Cleaver is most interesting when he’s not being a little hard on the beaver.
Two of my favorite stories are clever little bits of weird, the first involving the author attempting to meet the great Captain Lou Albano and the second being a musing over the creator of the classic Holocaust comic book memoir Maus and my beloved, forbidden Garbage Pail Kids. Until here, I didn’t know that the creator of these vastly different cultural artifacts was the same person.
I’m also a fan of Olsen’s hateful reminiscences of his own father figures, as well as his adventure in shitting in a sandbox.
Much of what makes this mishmash of bizarre stories function is that there’s a humor and humanity to them that doesn’t wallow in the sordid details. I suppose that the fact that each story is but one page long helps this. I definitely want to read something longer from Josh Olsen, but this quick, fascinating burst of screwball tales is captivating enough on its own.