“It reminds me of Richard Brautigan,” said Wally Keeler, after reading The President’s Cold Legs, the third fictionette in Stuart Ross’s collection of short stories, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. Brautigan was a hippiedom darling, the fantasist of Big Sur, the author of In Watermelon Sugar the Deeds Were Done and Done Again as My Life Is Done In Watermelon Sugar.
After finishing Stuart’s book, Wally Keeler FB’d the poetariet, “Stuart Ross has a brain wonderfully broken in several places and there is major leakage of imagination.”
Wally rarely read short stories, preferring instead, the relative brevity & beauty of poetry. Then Stuart Ross moves to Wally’s hometown. Stuart is easy to spot because his short tousled white hair looks as if wild animals had frolicked there and he was proud to host them. So naturally and organically, Wally scooped a copy of this book at King Street Books & Sundries, Cobourg’s only downtown bookstore.
Wally has had incidental bantering exchanges with Stuart over recent years. “So Wally, what have you read of mine?” Stuart Ross asked. Wally froze on the border between lying and the truth, nanosecond after nanosecond went by…
It took three Stuart stories to convince Wally that this was bathroom material of the first disorder. Some stories are brief as a snack, brief as a thorough evacuation of the previous day’s edibles. Great timing. Timeless in a manner of speaking easy. A yellow highlighter pen was placed next to the sink to mark turf for high concentrations of wit breaking through the palliative prose of everyotherday lives. Almost needed a second highlighter.
Stuart’s short stories contain the finest blend of banality mixed with generous helpings of imaginative reality. His stories charm and amaze, the qualities of a magician. He delivers simple stories of us with a slight-of-bland that produces a straight flush of wit.
He writes a story based on the outrageous premise of a man hiring a bodyguard to protect himself from his pet poodle. Held at gunpoint, the dog owner declares, “You’re nothing but a fucking sneaking poodle.” I swallowed the story whole, without choking, such was the ease with Stuart’s wiring and writing.
In another story, a couple of pronouns are up a tree while below them “…shopping carts prowled in lurching packs” and “the sky draped over us like a gigantic lung…”
Stuart has a natural gift for establishing moods and ambiances, then throws a Shakespearian volta at the end of the paragraph, “The trees were dark and cool, and the breeze rustled through the trees like gentle static… The sky was painted thick with clouds and not a single star shone through, not even the moon or the sun or Mars or a covert flight to Honduras.” Such subtle absurdity integrated into the text as a banality bursts with the surprise of Sandinista wit.
Witty banalities! -- who’d have thunk it possible? The medium is the messy age; Stuart’s clarity reveals that the very banality of life is absurd, and he pulls it off so neatly.
Stuart’s uberpeculiar imagination will kick your own imagination around, because, “you never know where life’s journey is going to take you, like you never know how the years are going to shove you around.” Lucky for Stuart and us, he detailed the life-knocks in narratives marinated with “charm and wit,” as Wally Keeler persistently asserts.
A “wild peculiar joy” drove Irving Layton to poempous excess, but with Stuart Ross, the process produces a poetpourri of writing elegance, from brief nano-narratives to extended tales wagging dogs disguised as dogs with tails to tell tall stories from Stuart’s wild peculiar imagination.