Keith Pille

Stranger on the Loose, D. Harlan Wilson, Eraserhead Press, 2003

[Review Guidelines]

As a reader, what you get from D. Harlan Wilson's short stories will depend entirely on what you expect from fiction. At first blush, this seems like such an obvious statement that I'm almost embarrassed to be making it, but Wilson's work is unconventional enough that you, the reader, would be well-served to ask yourself what you're after before opening Stranger. To put it bluntly, someone looking for true-to-life dialogue or fully-drawn, emotionally affecting characters or even strings of action that make sense in any conventional manner are going to be sorely disappointed.
      In other words, do not, under any circumstances, buy this book for your aunt who loved The Da Vinci Code unless you want to freak her out big-time.
      And, before going any further, I want to make it clear that none of the above statements were meant to be negative. It really doesn't seem like Wilson is in any way failing to put together plots or characters. In fact, it's pretty clear that he's not interested in doing so. Rather, it appears that his agenda here is a sort of core-dump of concepts spilling out of what must be one hell of a fertile imagination. Each story is a quick little riff on some weird-ass idea: a truculent diner battles a waiter and some boy bands; Walt Disney is resurrected with a drug called "Badass;" and, in my personal favorite, a man's home is invaded by G-string-clad bodybuilders (some of whom are also police). You finish the book thinking that D. Harlan Wilson must have some mighty strange (but entertaining) dreams every night.
      Wilson's playing a dangerous game here. These story nuggets are clever and stunningly original, but most of them aren't really enough to hang a whole lot of story on. He is, however, a canny-enough writer to know this, and the stories are kept short enough to keep any given idea from overstaying its welcome. Thirty pages of flexing bodybuilders in purple G-strings would lead one to seppuku, but two pages of it feels like some sort of freaky genius.
      Stranger on the Loose is emphatically not for everybody. A tolerance for experimental fiction is a pretty solid requirement for enjoying this book. And even for those whose literary tastes run to this sort of weird flavor, the barrage of ideas is so relentless that one can't really count on sitting down and reading it straight through. But, given those caveats, Stranger is an excellent chance to wallow in the stream of consciousness of one clever, creative sumbitch.