Roy Kesey
Dzanc Books ($13.95)

by Blake Butler

The fledgling independent press Dzanc Books chose wisely in selecting Roy Kesey’s All Over to launch their label; in this debut collection there is something for everyone. Kesey is a shape-shifter, a voice-imitator, a puppet master. His storytelling weaves and takes on several forms: spare dialogue, collage, formal interview, short vignettes, Zen koan, dossier, and simple narrative. He writes from places that seem immensely foreign, full of fable, like some court jester. He is Barthelmean in his ability to make something dense or highbrow come off as funny or gamesmanlike, which is high praise.

Kesey deploys an arsenal of voices: regal, grandfather’s knee, loaded babble, tongue-in-cheek, curt, perverse, timeless, and timely. Likewise, his scenarios are the stuff of dreams: a man responds to an ad by a company that claims to breed personal perfection, and after undergoing an unknowing treatment, quickly finds his bruises, weird hair, and cruddy home transformed; a group of travelers stuck in an airport develop sects and come to blows, turning the terminal into a war room. “Fontanel,” a story wherein we are guided through a strange childbirth via an unseen hand taking pictures, is so explicit and exact that the book would still be worth buying if all the other pages were blank. Like Jim Shepard, Kesey maximizes the utility of whatever host body he chooses to enter.

In the end, Kesey’s writing (which has appeared in places such as McSweeney’sNinth Letter, and Best American Short Stories 2007) is more than the sum of its parts. All Over is, in the book’s own words, “a collage-within-a-collage,” much like a set of Russian dolls—each one layered within the others, each single incarnation alive and new.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Winter 2007/2008 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2007/2008