By Josie E. Davis
How is faith like a bald spot? How is marriage like a bus tour? Is confession any good if I don’t believe and what should I believe in, anyway? Why not, for instance, believe that there is a bald spot shaped exactly like Iceland on the back of Osama Bin Laden’s head, which comes fully equipped with the Vestfjarda Peninsula to the west?
Believing is the specialty of Brian Doyle in his latest short fiction anthology, Bin Laden’s Bald Spot & Other Stories. Published this fall by Red Hen Press, these twenty five remarkable vignettes are a necessity for any shelf. Peculiar and confrontational, the book is a world wrapped between the sheets of unforgettable circumstance and it’s a wonder how Doyle has learned to pace himself. Award winning author and editor of Portland Magazine, Doyle leaves no time for dawdling in these morally off beat and nonsensical tales of what humanity would look like with consequences strung aside. What really happened to Bernard Francis Cardinal Law, archbishop of Boston and the man who waved a hand at child molestation? Would anyone notice if you locked your sister’s loser boyfriend in the trunk and went on a cruise with the kids? How would you react if you discovered your neighbor’s new born baby gently buried in your backyard?
“Skepticism is the beginning of faith,” quotes Oscar Wilde. The more you ask the more you know, and who better to question faith than Doyle, whose authentic, witty prose does more than question the obvious. Doyle meanders through family and religious politics with an effective flourish stirring up laughter and misgivings in tales like “A Confession”, and moral unrest in “Pinching Bernie”. It’s almost impossible to recount each story, although a few come to mind including the “Cuckold I0K”, about a cuckold running group comprised out of people who are being cheated on in their relationships. Or “Mule,” about a boy who tracks down a Mule for the death sentence of a village prisoner. Each of these stories has me asking what I would do in a particular situation. What path would I take? Would I steal the mule? Would I confront my husband or is the solidarity of a shared experience what I’m after. Is AAA Plus really worth it?
What makes the book great is that none of these events are truly out of reach for the imagination and yet, there is something peculiar about each tale, something impractical and unnerving about the candid retelling of personal experience. “The fact is that there are facts,” writes Doyle, “which is what we are talking about here, and then there is the nutty stuff, which is why God invented talk radio … you know what I’m saying?” Not every writer can convince the reader of the truth but for Doyle, fiction comes from the heart. He pours over taught politics with a quirky handle on doubt. Bin Laden’s Bald Spot & Other Stories is an evolution in prose and somewhere, someone has gone and blessed Brian Doyle, if only for being one of the few writers who truly understands fiction.