Wonderland is the second collection of stories by Samuel Ligon and of course we read it and loved it because we read his last collection, Drift & Swerve, and that was one of our favourites too. But why, you may ask. Why did you like Samuel Ligon’s latest collection? Why should we, the readers who have yet to sample the delights of Ligon’s writing, dive in here and make the purchase? We’ll tell you. Give us a minute. We won’t take any umbrage about the fact that you can’t just take our word for it, this once. Instead we’ll feel a little bit sorry for you – you’re the victim of the cynical age in which we live, and you can’t take a genuine, worthwhile recommendation on face value, we know that. You know what, you could be reading Samuel Ligon’s stories right now but instead you’re reading this (so, our commiserations) but, at the same time, Samuel Ligon’s short stories are still in your future (we’re so jealous – or we would be if we didn’t know we could just go and read them again, ah books, you’ve gotta love em eh?).
Ok. Wonderland. A book has never been so appositely titled. It’s a slim volume to be sure (so you can rely on the fact that Ligon’s stories never outstay their welcome, they are always just so), clocking in at just shy of 80 pages. Herein, you will find 13 stories, none of which run to more than 10 pages. Some people might call them flash fictions but that (still) does them something of a disservice. As we say, they are as long as they need to be and they do the job they set out to do (which is mystify, enthral, amuse, terrify, astound etc). You should also know that each story is twinned with a piece of art by Stephen Knezovich, and Knezovich’s art is a perfect twin, a conjoined twin, a Siamese twin, in that each piece of art is lovely and intriguing and unusual and at times disturbing but, we sense, perfectly in keeping with the story Ligon has spun (you can see the artwork that adorns ‘The Little Goat’, the third story in the book, to the right of here). One last point, just quick, before we get into the stories themselves: the paper the book is printed on feels nice. Now, it may be that such things matter less than nothing to you but to me they give a sense that the publisher (in this case, Lost Horse Press from Sandpoint, Idaho) have taken care and want you to love the book as much as they obviously do. And we do. We love the book as much as they obviously do.
Ok. The stories. The eponymous opener resounds like an echo of Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love (and if you’ve read Geek Love, this is the kind of comparison that sets the hares racing – because to read Geek Love is to love Geek Love – that’s one of the rules – and in reading Geek Love you come to know and accept that most other books are not Geek Love and it’s unfair to compare them thus and so you do not make comparisons to Geek Love lightly, so to compare the opener, which centres on a young man’s infatuation with the bearded lady in a travelling circus, to Geek Love is to say, here is a very lovely little short story indeed, a short story – to paraphrase its final line – that reads like “the most beautiful song I’d ever heard”). “Pie & Whiskey” follows, a story about Connie, who our narrator loves in spite of the fact that,
“she takes things too far. Other times she won’t take things far enough, depending on the thing at hand, but mostly it’s too far she takes everything else.”
the back and forth in the story centres on a cold remedy that includes “a pound and a half of raw beef tenderloin, eight to twelve shots of bourbon, two Valiums, a pack of menthol cigarettes, three bottles of Robitussin and a pound cake” and Vicodins possibly baked into a lemon meringue. It’s sweet, to be sure, but it lands a punch all the same.
We mentioned ‘The Little Goat” briefly above – imagine a young man and a young woman experimenting with their first bout of intercourse on a mountainside only to be distracted by a talking goat, given to saying things like, “You’re not doing it right” and “You’re both using too much tongue” and “Now we’re talking.” We won’t spoil all of the joys of the book – after all, you have twins weened on whiskey, couples driven wild with lust over the last doughnut, prayers for a neighbour’s quick and painless death and truly delightful unsolicited blurbs. There ain’t a bum note in the book. If this was an album, we’d say it’s all killer and no filler.
If short stories are your bag, this is very much for you. We’d go further. This is the kind of book you read and love and talk about and share and pass on and buy for other people only for them to come back to you, enthusing and saying, thank you for that recommendation, Jesus, that Sam Ligon, he’s a total star, why isn’t he King of the World yet? And of course we would all say, shut the hell up, he’s our secret, don’t go letting any Tom, Dick or Harry know about him (but we know in time it will get out and then we’ll just have to deal with it, knowing there will be satisfactions in saying, yeah, yeah, yeah about time you schmucks caught up with us, we’ve known Samuel Ligon is a giant for AGES).
Any Cop?: 80 pages of loveliness. Why deny yourself?