The Start Of Something – The Selected Stories, by Stuart Dybek

Published November 3rd 2016

Chloe Evans || November 4th

‘The Start of Something’ is a collection of nineteen short stories by the North American actor Stuart Dybek. With stories originally published in the 80’s and 90’s to 2003 and jumping up to 2014, ‘The Start of Something’ shows us some of the work that has made Dyek the ‘live master of short stories’ and why he is the receiver of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation, a PEN/Malamud Prize, A Lannan Award, a Whiting Writers Award, and four O. Henry Prizes.

Dybek’s work covers tales of a Nun kidnapping a conductor and dressing him in her clothes, to the romantic tale of Jack and Lise and their rose petal flavoured grappa from Italy. Each of Dybek’s stories are so unique; new characters, fresh settings and more interestingly – a variance of writing styles which trick you into thinking that they’re from a different author with the only similarity being the abundance of literacy magnificence.

Stuart Dybek.jpg

Dybek’s earlier work, present towards the end of the book, begins with ‘The Palatski Man’, an enchanting yet chilling piece of work that draws you deep into the story of a young girl, Mary, and her older brother, John. ‘The Palatski Man’ brings you into a time where you remember the things you did as a young child that scared you and got your heart racing, the kind of tales you hid from your parents and told only your best of friends, or in this case your sibling. Dybek writes the story in a way which leads you to feel fear deep in your stomach, viewing life in the eyes of two children after Mary plans an adventure to follow the Palatski Man with John. The trip seems to take a more sinister turn when John realises they are on the same path he had once taken with an old friend, Ray, who was seemingly captured by the ‘Ragmen’- a group of dirty old men who the young boys of their town tormented as they travelled with their horses to sell their goods - that they had followed to the exact location. John, recalling the trip with Ray and how different Ray had been running up to his disappearance after their close call with the ‘Ragmen’ insists that he and Mary turn back. But Mary, being so enthusiastic to reconnect with her brother insists that they carry on, until they too find their selves in peril. ‘The Palatski Man’ is written in such a way that when this danger approaches the children your mind races with the horrific images of what could happen to them, it pulls you into the story as if it were you watching through the weeds before the singing colony of men turn to point in your direction. The clever part of this story is that even though you fear for the worst, the children never seem to be in any real danger and are given candy apples and palatski by the men, but you still feel deep inside your stomach that everything that happens is leading to a horrible ending. But like all adventures of children, it ends with them returning home, in trouble for being late for their dinner and as if nothing had ever happened.

One of the shortest stories, ‘The Cat Woman’, tragic enough to break even the hardest of humans tells us of a grandmother who drowns the neighbourhoods ‘excess kittens’ in her washing machine and beats her deranged grandson for hanging them on the washing line by their tiny tales. The tale grows more tragic, the grandson becoming crazier in every sentence, sitting on the roof naked and shouting at passers-by before his grandmother stops taking the kittens and the neighbourhood becomes over run with stray cats. The story twists and turns, before taking an even stranger twist where you almost believe the crazy cat lady believes that she is a cat, motioning that she is ‘padding’ the flooring above the grandsons bizarre basement hideout. This story seems so bizarre compared to the more romantic and lustrous tales such as ‘Waiting’, one of the longer short stories in the ‘Start of Something’ collection which is where this book becomes so intriguing and captivating, not really knowing what you should expect from each short story.

With each story varying so much from the next and every one as surprising as the previous it’s difficult to put down Dyek’s book. The collection chosen showcases some of Dyek’s classics and also his show-stopping recent work, showing that time has only been kind to Dyek and his writing but presents how his work has grown beautifully entwisted with his poetry over his lifetime to become ‘essential reading’.