Reviewed by New Pop Lit
“I like this gimmick. The gimmick’s good.”
“Cops are smarter than you think. Get in, get out. That’s what dad always says, and he never got pinched once.”
-from “The Gimmick”
THE GIMMICK— novelettes, stories, and sketches by Canadian-born writer Vern Smith— starts slowly. The first story is about two men in a diner, the second about two men in a park. Why open with them? It might be the author’s way of easing the reader into his style of writing. Or he might be misdirecting– sandbagging– setting up the stories to follow.
Third in the collection is the title piece: “The Gimmick.” Top-level detective fiction with a noir feel. Think Walter Mosely. Two police detectives pursue a scam-artist couple who’ve robbed bank customers at ATM machines– including a detective. The robbed detective is eager to get them back.
The characters are fully drawn and completely absorbing. The plot, unpredictable right to the end.
Meanwhile, you’re still walking.
The tie is strangling you.
You feel the extra starch they put in your shirt, always too much starch.
Sweat is dripping off your brow.
You are the oldest young man on earth.
-from “You Need Something to Slow You Down”
Most of the stories which follow are Kafkaesque. Their protagonists seem to be hanging in the air, upside down, at some shitty job or in some absurd life from which there’s no escape. They stumble through this universe drugged, puzzled, or numb, waiting for their next misstep.
But the best story in the collection, “The Great Salmon Hunt,” is a simple adventure story set aboard a fishing boat chartered by two brothers who hope to win a big salmon fishing contest. The tale contains its own version of absurdities via the personalities of the two brothers– resulting in comedy combined with high excitement. Hemingway would love it.
More discord than harmony, it was music without a message, music without words, music that related to the concept of nothingness.
-from “Natalia Cauzillo’s Last Ride Out”
The last short tale, “Natalia Cauzillo’s Last Ride Out,” is an apt coda to the collection– a culmination of themes as a sharply drawn young woman deals with her own discontent within another of the insane systems of now.
Kafka meets Sherwood Anderson: the nonstop parade of quirky characters, like Natalia, are the strong point of Smith’s writing. Linkages in his created world– which appears uncomfortably similar to our own.
(Photo of Vern Smith.)