Daddy Issues, reviewed by Alex McElroy, published by The Cupboard
Alex McElroy’s debut chapbook, Daddy Issues, to be published in September by publisher The Cupboard contains fiction that doesn’t live in the land of dystopia brought on by the end of technology and Artificial Intelligence, but rather creates a near-future world where robots live among us, but they are just as fragile, just as weird as the humans that are desperately searching for meaning in a partially mechanized world. Artificial Intelligence is just as suspect to subject feelings and human failings. Here within these short five stories, you’ll find our future in the yearning characters stuck trying to solve twentieth century problems in a twentieth-first-century world. McElroy’s subject here isn’t the future, but rather how to solve the divide between children and parents: a familiar space written in with an authoritative, myth-making voice that isn’t content with bending the ear of the reader, but rather their arm, dragging them deeper into the sublimely weird scenarios where humanity and technology clash.The second story, entitled “My First Memory” starts out with that confident quirky voice that permeates throughout the chapbook inviting the reader into a comfy, but
The second story, entitled “My First Memory” starts out with that confident quirky voice that permeates throughout the chapbook inviting the reader into a comfy, but unsettling chair. “I am two years old, possibly three, and my mother has her hands in my throat.” McElroy’s opening lines, when they’re at their best, fill the reader with wonder. They support the impetus of constantly asking what happens next?
The third story, entitled “Lineage” though missing the robots, exerts the constant theme of family ties and how our childhoods are affected by being in proximity to our relatives. This story starts “In my earliest memories of Dad and me together, I am two years old, and dad is riding me piggyback through the streets of Phoenix, Arizona― a Sunday Tradition.” McElroy wastes no time is setting up a world slightly off-kilter. A world that readers aren’t familiar with because it’s completely of McElroy’s creation. The reader isn’t put off by entering this world, but learns to trust the voice of the narrator who goes on to say:
Shortly after my birth, he implemented a series
of strength-building exercises. He made me carry a
baby ram up the hill behind our house every morning.
He dumped rattlesnakes in my crib. He bathed me in nuclear gunk (easy to get in Arizona).From this moment the grandfather is added to this piggyback experience, and then in a turn toward the weird, the bones of the great-grandfather are introduced and added to the pile of men. In this allegory of patrimony, we feel the weight of each generation and are left with this image. “I snuck an occasional peek at Great-Grandpa, who—way up high and jostled by wind—appeared to be waving the flag, waving with that unbroken swagger unique to the dead.”
From this moment the grandfather is added to this piggyback experience, and then in a turn toward the weird, the bones of the great-grandfather are introduced and added to the pile of men. In this allegory of patrimony, we feel the weight of each generation and are left with this image. “I snuck an occasional peek at Great-Grandpa, who—way up high and jostled by wind—appeared to be waving the flag, waving with that unbroken swagger unique to the dead.”
In the story entitled “Two Lives Saved” McElroy switches to the third person narrative voice to give the reader a glimpse into Franklin’s life, who is dealing with the impending death of his father. The scene takes place in a run down hotel with a pool so dirty that “Sodden leaves and grass clippings bobbed on the surface alongside dead bugs.” McElroy’s characters in their grief go places most of us would avoid. The character’s moment of crisis arises when he remembers a game he used to play as a kid. “In the game, he would swim with slow, deliberate strokes, lips parted, trying to collect bugs in his mouth. He lost if he swallowed a bug.” The setting and occasion for the story may sound familiar, but McElroy forces his characters into situations they have to reckon with. “He didn’t want to be a man who tried to recapture his childhood. Nor did he want to be a man who turned his back on it.” Here finally is what these stories are grappling with. Childhoods and their inherent weirdness; the singular that touches the universal.
While this chapbook might not be for the fan of straight realism, it should capture the attention and adoration from readers who continue to read with a sense of wonder at the feat of authorial imagination that runs like a riptide through these stories. McElroy never bores, never panders. He sheds new insight into a familiar theme of fathers and sons and family loyalty when pushed to an extreme whether that be by circumstance or by robot. McElroy would like the reader to consider in that off-kilter narrative way of his, just where do we come from? “We wonder, Who were our daddies? Are we like our daddies? What would it mean if we were?”