Arthur Bradford: Dogwalker

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Arthur Bradford: Dogwalker

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Dogwalker

Author: Arthur Bradford
Publisher: Knopf

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The epigraph to Dogwalker, Arthur Bradford's lean and hilariously off-center debut collection, quotes the monologue that fellow Austin native Richard Linklater used to open his seminal independent film Slacker. Heading into town in the back of a taxicab, Linklater tells the (most likely disinterested) driver about a dream in which every thought he had broke off and formed its own reality, including the infinite choices or decisions that were not made. Like a lot of ideas in Slacker, this one falls somewhere between the crackpot and the profound, but it also gets at the essence of Bradford's storytelling, which forms new realities out of odd, whimsical thoughts that other authors might find disposable. The stories in Dogwalker are written in a minimalist, distinctly Texan deadpan that's like Kurt Vonnegut by way of Mike Judge, with mildly grotesque/surreal incidents intruding on ordinary life. Unburdened by the weight of imposed significance, Bradford's low-key slices of life lean toward absurd situations and slow-witted heroes who can't quite recognize the ridiculousness surrounding them. In "Catface," a litter of mutant (conjoined or limbless) puppies inspires an ill-conceived kidnapping scheme and the prominent appearance of a character with bizarre feline features. Bradford pushes the melding of human and house pet even further in "Dogs," a five-part mini-epic about man-dog procreation ("our affair came about one afternoon through a gradual progression of caressing and snuggling"), which yields a furry dog-child with an excellent singing voice. "Mattress" makes an adventure out of a man delivering a used mattress, which flies out of the back of his friend's truck; "I've never lost a load," he mutters repeatedly. In "Mollusks," the discovery of a giant yellow slug in the glove compartment of a junkyard Pontiac leads to an awkward love triangle and a riotous reflection on the days when such creatures ruled the earth. The collection's carnival atmosphere reaches its zenith with "Chainsaw Apple," the funny and oddly sweet tale of a man who carves people's initials into an apple with a "Lumberman 650" chainsaw as they hold the apple steady in their mouths. Dogwalker may sound like a freakshow, but Bradford writes with such disarming sincerity that he comes much closer to identification than condescension. His pitch-perfect stories may not have the scope of self-important fiction, but they leave a singular mark all the same.