Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Dustin LaValley
Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press
There are often characters in fiction that are not the heroic stereotypes. Called anti-heroes or scumbags, they include such luminaries as Batman and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. They do bad things, and we root for them anyway. They’re lowlifes. Author, screenwriter and actor Dustin LaValley pays tribute to these people in his new collection of shorts called Lowlife Underdogs.
To begin with, it isn’t quite fair to call the parts of this book “stories,” as much as I would “vignettes.” All but the last piece range from a page and a half to three pages long, with little in the way of a story arc or real plot; however, they do provide a slice of life of the characters, which, for the most part, are just less-than-nice people. Still, with titles like “The Bologna Jesus Phenomenon” and “Train Your Midget in Three Easy Steps,” there’s a lot of humor to be had. Which isn’t to say this is a comedy. Far from it. Other titles include “Mike and the Coathanger Abortion” and “Jesus Fucker.” Nope, this isn’t for the easily offended. The collection is separated into two parts, “Blow” and “Counterblow.” While the pieces in the first section have some sort of humor and appeal, the second section shows just how shitty the characters’ lives can be.
It’s worth noting that many of the stories bear the subheading of “Written in bed B of room E516 on the fifth floor of Albany Medical Center.” While there are many conclusions that can be drawn from such a byline, what is clear is that LaValley wrote about pain, suffering and loss while he experienced some himself.
Lowlife Underdogs is a strange little book. While every “story” in it (though most are only two pages long) is engaging, they don’t follow the rules of storytelling. The characters are, for the most part, reprehensible and the situations are grim. But despite the questionable subject matter, readers will find themselves transfixed, living vicariously through the bad guys. It’s strange, and it’s not the sort of thing that any of the NYT presses would likely ever put out, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It is, for lack of a better word, art. LaValley has shown himself with this collection to be not just a writer, but an artist. And while Lowlife Underdogs is definitely not for everyone, it’s worth checking out.
3 1/3 out of 5
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