Matt deftly rides the rails between literary fiction and TheTwilight Zone in this collection of five stories. Many of his characters populate a world-in-transition with an impending feel that all is not right, that all won’t end well. Having lived in San Pedro and environs his entire life, Matt’s got the feel of his neighborhoods down—the ebb and flow, the feeling of both pride and the wanderlust of a port town, the substrata vision that only long-timers and careful observers are capable of. It’s the San Pedro that I’m familiar with: Croatians and Hispanics. Longshoremen and skaters. Gangsters, families, and bikers intermingling at street fairs. Rocky beaches instead of sand. Grounded in these semiotics—these day-to-day, familiar, tangible symbols that many ingest without second thought—Matt steers his fiction into demons, quick spirals downward, and Jack Chick tract-like comics.
It’s in this gradation of lightness to darkness, of, “Oh, that makes perfect sense” to “What the fuck?” that Matt excels. Through analogy, metaphor, and symbolism he creates wobbly worlds that appear perfectly calm on the surface. Are pulp comics really being written by angels and devils when the protagonist is waiting to get a haircut? Are those two dudes fighting a monster at sea or is the main character so unreliable and too far gone to realize he’s battling himself? That type of writing—hallucinatory realism—is a tough gig and, at his best, Matt does just that. “Normal” people can turn out to be really fuckin’ weird if you scratch them hard enough.
My criticism is a matter of taste. I have the suspicion that many of the characters in these stories are “different” Matts transposed into different situations (like “teenage Matt” who wants to join the carnival in “Driver Ed and His Demon” and “science teacher Matt” in “Theatre Dreams” who wants to use logic in the face of a Shakespeare-spouting homeless woman.). It’s not overbearing. It’s definitely not, “I’m an authorly author. Be dazzled by my writing, morons!”—but an in-the-head, self-conscious, self-reflective treatment. So, the sum total, instead of a clutch of wildly distinct characters who stand on their own, away from their occupations or semiotic roles, I feel that either the narrator or the protagonist is most often a version of Matt, not a distinct population of revolving characters inhabiting stories. In other words—as a reader of short story fiction collections—I’m most interested when the characters in the photograph come to life and speak for themselves. I wish they would more in Matt’s stories.
All that said; it’s ultimately obvious that Matt takes the craft of writing seriously. He’s both talented and driven. It’s reassuring to see DIY writers in the 2010s investing in themselves. This self-published book is tightly edited, cleanly laid out, pragmatically printed, and features a Mike Watt on the cover. –Todd Taylor (Mas Productions, 3330 South Peck Ave., Apt. 2, San Pedro, CA90731)