Review: Knuckleheads

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May 24, 2011 by markstani

The ten short stories that make up Jeff Kass’s debut collection Knuckleheads prove there’s plenty of life left in the coming-of-age genre yet. Kass’s approach to the topic is refreshingly different: in these tales, for the most part, they play on sports teams and end up getting the girls. There is not so much of the overt nihilism of those chronicled in, say, James Franco’s Palo Alto. Which is not to say Kass’s characters necessarily enjoy happy high school days. They’re afflicted by just the same insecurities and hang-ups, only they come equipped with the muscles to help them fix stuff. Kass is an incredibly kinetic writer and the stories zip by. The best, arguably, is the collection of fractured vignettes which make up Basements (excerpt here) – so good they leave you aching for more. If there is a criticism, it’s that some of the stories revolving around the grown-up ‘Knuckleheads’ maybe don’t work so well: it’s easy to sympathise with a teenage wrestler going through adolescent angst; less so with a fortysomething who was dealt all the right cards but still feels a little too sorry for himself. Nevertheless, an excellent collection. Read it along with Franco’s Palo Alto, and get the view from both sides.

(It must also be said, credit to Dzanc Books for buying in big-time to the e-book revolution: their e-books are half the price of print copies, which puts most big publishers to shame. Dzanc (and other relatively smaller, independent publishers like Featherproof) have taken a head-start the others – who seem almost to be in denial about the whole e-book thing -will soon regret).

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