Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.
I stumbled upon this anthology at the local bookstore and expected it to be a new release (the book was shrink-wrapped so I couldn't check) but it was originally published in 2005. This has got to be the book with the longest title: Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren't as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn't Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out. That more or less conveys the tone of the stories you might expect to find here.
What I immediately noticed is that Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs... was published by McSweeney's Books and features the design aesthetic of this respected publisher. The cover for example was co-designed with Chip Kidd and the book jacket conceals an unfinished story by Lemony Snicket which you can complete and mail to the publisher (it even has room for the stamp). There's also a crossword at the back and a very engaging introduction by Snickett. It's these engaging features that make a McSweeney's book interactive and this is no exception.
There are eleven stories in this book, some of them new (at the time) and some are reprints. Each one is accompanied by an illustration or two and the artworks have a unique aesthetic. The selection is clearly geared towards a young adult sensibility and for the most part, they work and were enjoyable. There were just one or two that made me hesitate. "Each Sold Separately" by Jon Scieszka for example is simply too weird even for me and I felt that Clement Freud over-extended himself when it comes to the length of "Grimble."
I'll do a quick run-down of the pieces that caught my attention. "Monster" by Kelly Link is a clear stand-out. It's not the first time that I encountered it but it stands well upon multiple re-readings. The title I think best captures the mood of the story as there are several monsters, both physical and metaphorical, in the narrative. The opening scene is a good example of seeding at the same time capturing the atmosphere of what it is to be in summer camp. I enjoyed how the protagonist feels very much like a teenager along with all the fears and emotional baggage that goes along with it.
"Sunbird" by Neil Gaiman, much like Link's story, is again a story I've read more than a few times before and one starts to appreciate the foreshadowing present earlier in the narrative. It contains the elements of a refined Gaiman, including witty banter, a reference to mythology, and quirky characters that liven up the piece. The length is just right and there's a steady build-up to the conclusion.
"Spoony-E & Spandy-3 Vs. The Purple Hordes" by James Kochalka wasn't that impressive but it bears mentioning. It's a comic that's reminiscient of what's being done on the web and some indie comics, from actual photographs serving as background and an evident use of photoshop. It's badly drawn in a good way and even the plot is in the service of that particular feel. It's cheesy and not something I'd want to read in multiple doses but encountering it once or twice is quite the novelty.
Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs... gets a thumbs up and much like several McSweeney's books, is one of those luxuries that pays for itself on aesthetics alone.