Aliens. Goblins. Giant robots. Regular-sized sexy robots. Big hairy, smelly beasts. Dimensional travel. Mutations.
These elements make up the series of fever dreams that is Eyeballs Growing All Over Me…Again, a collection of short stories by Tony Rauch.
Each story packs a punch of weird into it, which makes it a good things that this is a short story collection. Eyeballs is a book best taken in small doses, and it feels like it would be very easy to get a Bizarro overdose if reading too much at once.
How to describe it? Well, that’s actually really hard to do, especially when it come to short story collections like this. There can be different ways of interpreting the stories and if they’re related at all. For example, I got the feeling that all these stories could have taken place in the same community or small town. There’s nothing to suggest that in any of the stories, as there are no common characters or threads through anything, but I somehow got that impression. It probably has to do with the consistent writing style throughout the book.
There’s also a sense of humor about everything. With a couple of exception (the story of the nosy paperboy, or the one where the man’s head starts growing to gargantuan size), you get the feeling that the characters aren’t that bothered by the strange and unusual going on around them. Yeah, Boone builds a sexy robot to help him meet women. We try to disuade him from doing so. He does it anyway. Life goes on. Huh. It’s like a scifi version of “Airplane!” or “The Naked Gun.” Yeah, there are eyeballs growing all over me. It’ll probably pass. Let’s go yell at airplanes. (This actually happens in one of the stories.)
As I started writing this review, I was going to suggest that it could be a good starter to Bizarro fiction being a short story collection. But as I think about it some more, I’m starting to question that conclusion. First, as I said above, it’s much better taken in small doses, as a story or two at a time. Given how short some of the stories are, a reader could be very tempted to keep plugging through, but they’ll probably regret it. It’s kind of like how it takes twenty minutes for a person to feel full after eating, so they keep eating not realizing this. These stories are like a literary superfood, small in portion size but packing a heavier-than-expected nutritional punch that needs a little time to sink in. But if you don’t give it time to digest, you’ll probably make yourself sick. Mentally.
Second, some of these stories have a subtext to them and go outside the norm enough in other ways that some people might not grasp. I’m familiar with the Bizarro line of books, and the subtext in some of these stories took a little while to sink in. The storytelling style itself is unusual, to say the least. It definitely gets the author’s distinctive flavor (ewww!), but it’s unconventional enough that I would find it hard to recommend to a casual reader.
One thing that is notable, however, is how tame a lot of the stories are. There’s a distinct lack of profanity, violence, or “adult” situations. Rauch chooses to mess with your mind in other ways. I’m not a prude in any sense, but it’s something that I think a lot of newer authors could learn from. For some reason, reading profanity on the page can be a lot more jarring than hearing it from a movie screen, and can yank a reader out of a story more easily. Bravo to the author for taking this route, and choosing to challenge the reader in other ways. I might even go so far as to call it a Bizarro book aimed at young adults. It made the book feel different and refreshing.
Eyeballs Growing All Over Me…Again works most of the time, but there’s a couple stories that went a little wide of the mark for me. This invariably happens with most short story collections. In addition, I didn’t have the foresight to take my own advice and read the book in small doses. Use the benefit of my hindsight when reading this book.
Eyeballs Growing All Over Me…Again by Tony Rauch earns 3 out of 5 stars.