The Reality Machine
by Cliff Burns
Black Dog Press, 1997
Some authors write to mirror reality. Others, not content to be restrained by the limitations set down by an arbitrarily perceived list of natural rules, try to warp reality to suit their own needs.The reality was far more ugly and ominous.
Isn't that the way it always is?
Cliff Burns is definitely among the latter. The Canadian author's 1997 collection The Reality Machine should stand as proof. It is twisted. Seriously twisted. Gloriously unhinged. Irredeemably odd. And one whackadoo amount of fun. These are stories that add layers to reality, both atop and underneath, revealing new worlds while at the same time reflecting back our own existence. I'm not sure if that makes any sort of literal sense, but its difficult to encapsulate the overall effect Burns' stories have on the unsuspecting reader. And when you come across a paragraph such as this -
- it's clear that the author is not content to let the reader wile the hours away with some mindless entertainment.The waitress dragged her feet and her thighs had worn holes in her nylons. Cancer had eaten her ovaries and one day would be back for seconds. And she wouldn't mind one bit.
Each short story brings forth a skewed perspective of our world, subverting what appear to be, on the surface, simple tales of relationships, work, love, and the like. "Also Starring" posits a brief but intense crime spree by criminals who look an awful lot like Hollywood's best-loved character actors. "The Woman Who Gave Good Phone" is a witty ode to random cruelty. "The Goblins" posits terrors far worse than the monsters under the bed. "Dialogue (For Two or More Voices)" examines the destruction of a relationship through the inevitable lassitude and ennui that infects all couples. "In Dreams, Awake" presents the end of the world, if you can stay awake for it.
Burns writing is sparse, minimalist, but his words are as sharp as knives, dissecting our universe with astonsishing precision. The Reality Machine, as sharp and memorable as a paper cut, is a real find. These stories have teeth, and they bite. You will not leave unmarked.
VERDICT: MONKEY LIKES A LOT
EXTRA: If your interested, Burns has two of his novels, So Dark the Night and Of the Night, available online for free, so how could you lose?