Literary oddities can have great potential. At their best, they can form classic works that rise above other printed words to unparalleled success – think of authors Franz Kafka or Lewis Carroll – and certainly in modern literature there is room for writers with strange stories to tell. Flirting with the bizarre is risky, though, as an author’s message can be lost if the writing is not strong enough to support the stories being told.
And so the judgment to be made in My Goat Ate Its Own Legs: Tales for Adults by Alex Burrett. In this book, British-born Burrett mixes dark sardonic humor with everyday life. Most of the stories are short, the title story only two pages long. The tales cover a wide variety of topics and vary in setting. There are thirty-one overall, and this compilation creates a book of sometimes crude, sometimes touching, tales that form a distinctive whole laced with social commentary.
The most effective stories include “UBP©,” a tale about a chemical that creates pure beauty, forcing those who can afford it to look for the beauty within. “Fat Tom” speaks volumes about obesity and eating disorders by exploring cannibalism. “The Laughter Balloon” is an excellent story that compares the advantages and disadvantages of technology’s role in society. In these stories and some others, Alex Burrett shows he has a point to make, writing with an intensity born of deep feeling and managing to entertain in the process.
In other areas, his point gets lost. Several stories seem to be odd just for the sake of being odd. “Godwatching” is a disturbing tale about the creation of the universe, and “What a Fix” is a gross tale involving sex that could be used as a deterrent means of birth control in middle schools. Burrett has a background working in advertising, a field that often thrives on pushing the envelope. This may explain the strange ideas in his writing as attempts to be edgy. Fans of Chuck Palahniuk may revel in some of the more bizarre stories in this collection from Alex Burrett, but others will be repulsed.
Burrett has a vivid imagination, but the writing style is not nearly as creative as his ideas. The ending of several stories is unproductive because Burrett often relies on twist endings to finish his tales. While this can be done effectively, as it is in the story “Cyrano” (an excellent tale of a dog with an addiction problem), Burrett uses twist endings so frequently they become predictable and boring. Several stories, including “Slow Painter,” “Cream” and “Julian’s Boat,” fall flat, ending with one or two sentences that reveal a (supposed-to-be) unseen twist. The repeated use of the twist ending several stories in a row makes the writing predictable, and it isn’t long before readers will tire from a lack of freshness in the stories.
My Goat Ate Its Own Legs: Tales for Adults is, in its entirety, a mixed bag. There are unique, imaginative tales worth reading like “Hell Breaks,1” which talks of vacationing in the underworld. Readers will identify with “The Stone,” a poignant narrative about life and childhood memories (and easily the best story in the collection), but for every tale worth reading, others are either poorly written or too odd to be enjoyed. There are some good stories between these pages – unfortunately the reader will have to waste time reading cover to cover to find them.