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
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,