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Welcome To The Dahl House
posted July 22, 2008
Microcosm Publishing, softcover, 122 pages, July 2008
The most ambitious work in Ken Dahl's Welcome to the Dahlhouse
is what seems at first its most traditional: a series of spoken word essays by everyman stand-in Gordon Smalls on a variety of subjects ranging from frozen bananas in one's cereal to swinging on swing sets at night to peeing in the shower. They work on their own as slightly acerbic takes on (mostly) small-town subjects, sarcastic put-downs of the absurdities of live as lived. Taken together a different picture emerges. In reading several such stories in a row, one sees how much Dahl shifts his narrative approach from straight-forward essay to involved narrative about its principal character. Rather than a take on any variety of absurd subjects, Dahl presents the story of Gordon Smalls dealing with various feelings of combativeness and inadequacy, and takes greater and greater liberties with the way each comic shifts focus. They're not essays; they're stories about the essayist. It's a nice trick, delicately accomplished.
If there's anything connecting the various short comics in an array of styles as generally presented in this small book -- the kind that feels like a gift from heaven in its ability to gather scattered, lost work -- it's the surprising amount of tenderness that comes through its pages. A story about a friendship between two boys called "Paul" takes a funny turn into pre-adolescent sexuality and on its last page throws out a killer line about the nature of sex before a pitch-perfect last twist towards the funny and trenchant. There's also a very funny, extended scene in one of Gordon Smalls' "skillshares" where Dahl nails down the frustration that one feels after an encounter with local law enforcement even amidst the relative serenity of a long walk home. There's a lack of commitment that comes through at times in some of the lesser stories, as if Dahl isn't fully enamored of or engaged by the idea being discussed. Even that is understandable given the nature of collecting older material. This is a fine little book, and I'd love to read more.