I really enjoyed Allen C. Jones’ debut novel so what a delight to read his debut short story collection Big Weird Lonely Hearts (Midnight Sun Publishing 2023), available by pre-order now for release in November. My recent reading of George Saunders’ interpretation of The Nose by Nicolai Gogol certainly gave me a decent and informed background going into Jones’ collection, which is made up entirely of stories that are weird, strange, odd, impossible, unbelievable, ridiculous, unlikely and yet wholly entertaining.
This absurdist collection is also very funny, often darkly so, and a thread of love – finding it, losing it, keeping it, denying it, pursuing it – is woven throughout many of the stories as the characters desperately try to resolve their big, weird, lonely hearts.
There are unusual physical anomalies: a woman finds a clitoris on the back of her knee, a man is mistaken for a bush, another man has a computer for a face, a woman falls in love with a severed arm. Two of my favourites are Unisex Soliloquy, about toilet etiquette, and the moving and sad The Last Tiger in the World. An endless feud between frenemies Cat and Dog; a poignant story of a child; a mermaid who is a refugee (many of the stories have undertones of social commentary or questions); a quirky story about a bird who meows with the voice of a cat. Dead fish and unrequited love and constructions and the forward march of technology, machines and AI. My other favourite, the chilling The Man Upstairs, has a shocking resolution.
At the end are short notes on the prompt or beginnings of each of the stories, with satisfying extra details that make you want to go back and read each story again.
If you love the work of David Cohen (The Terrible Event / The Hunter), Wayne Marshall (Shirl), Laura Elvery (Trick of the Light / Ordinary Matter), Fiona Robertson (If You’re Happy) and on the darker side, Amanda O’Callaghan (This Taste for Silence) and of course the traditionalists such as Gogol, then you will love and appreciate the absurd writings of Allen C. Jones.
Jones is clever, observant, compassionate and brave, with a vivid imagination that brings these characters, and the situations in which they find themselves, to life with colour. It also has the funniest dedication page I’ve seen in ages.