THE COWARD FILES: FAKE STORIES by Ryan Arnold (Conundrum), 120 pages, $15 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The coward files is an unassuming little book of quirky, smart-aleck stories from new Calgary-based author Ryan Arnold.
Arnold is writing about ordinary weirdos doing absolutely nothing special, but he keeps the reader engaged anyway. It's like staring at the unkempt mid-20s guy with a bad haircut scribbling in his journal on the subway: kind of sad, but you keep staring.
The Coward Files contains 11 stories whose craven protagonists range from obsessive floor-lickers to myopic mammal haters who, telling clever lies, pick each other up at the dog park.
At their best, they're laugh-out-loud funny, tragic and completely bizarre.
Standout story Security tracks an aimless mall security guard who sees his co-worker getting beaten up by teenaged thugs in the parking lot and chooses to retreat.
Johnny follows a guy in Montreal who, on his way out to buy porn, goes down a street lined with people ready to greet the Pope and has a seemingly inconsequential interaction with a girl he recalls later in life.
These characters have fathers who chastise them for paddling canoes like pathetic Girl Scouts and wives who leave them because they're losers. They often introduce themselves to strangers as "unlucky men."
By the final story, you wonder if Arnold could've pushed these guys beyond their cowardly instincts, fleshed them out a bit more believably and given them more emotional range. But then would this book be so amusing?
The Coward Files' strength lies in its cringe-inducing humour, inventive ruminations on loneliness and failed masculinities.
It's the perfect book for waiting for the bus and feeling better about yourself - because, well, at least you're not one of these guys.
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