Stone a Pig, stories by Dave K. Baltimore: Banners of Death Press, 2012.
The danger with themed story collections, especially ones with an unusual theme or approach, is that the strangeness might be a gimmick that hides a lack of talent, readability, what-have-you. This is not the case with Dave K.’s collection. These stories have a steampunk/neo-Victorian feel, but what truly stands out is how well-written they are. Dave K.’s prose is a pleasure to read. I was thrilled to settle down with this book by a natural storyteller who simply knows how to write. I savored each story like dessert. Dave K.’s characters are well-drawn, his settings are compelling and vivid; I could continue to praise all the things he does well, but the bottom line is that Dave K. knows what he’s doing. I wish, when I edited a literary journal, he’d sent me any of these stories. I’d have snatched them up right away.
The collection opens with “How To Adopt a Cat,” which introduces the reader to the world of the book. The neo-Victorian elements abound; the main character has recently been released from a sanitarium into a gray, polluted world. He’s afraid of the faceless crowd; he’s afraid of the comfortless world, but he finds comfort in the titular cat. In each story, K. fleshes out the world subtly, revealing a wasted, industrialized city in which the rich live in high-rise buildings far above the smog which envelopes the poor below. “To the Moon” fleshes out the steampunk elements by focusing on some of the technological aspects of this society. As the stories progress, K. gives us mutated, barren people trying to survive in a harsh – both physically and psychically – environment. In general, K. focuses on the poor, the laborers, and it’s apparent that these are the characters with which his loyalties lie. Even though the world of the stories is somewhat strange, it’s very, very familiar in that K. seems to be commenting on certain current problems, namely class disparity, pollution, and questions of business ethics. Honestly, at times I found myself wondering if K. was revising the past or predicting the future.
The title story follows “Officer Pickett,” a beat cop. Pickett is a moral character surrounded by cops who steal from citizens and citizens at odds with a world-shift. His beat includes an old university, whose students have long since left and been replaced with factory workers of various ethnicities. The most reviled seem to be the Chinese who work in a ‘ro-bot’ factory because they represent the greatest disparity between the less and less educated other citizens. This is a community that once thrived and has fallen into decline, in terms of opportunity but also in terms of morality. Though this story could easily become some sort of noir redundancy, K. never even dangles his toes into the waters of cliché.
What makes K.’s stories so readable, aside from his outstanding writing, is his attention to his characters. He cares about them; this shines through. There’s a vulnerability to them that makes them instantly accessible. K. is invested in these characters, and it shows. I’ve heard K. read a couple times at open mics, so I knew that he could write, but I was honestly blown away by how good his writing is. I can’t wait to read more.
Here's an interview with K. regarding the book, which he self-published as part of his MFA program.