REVIEW: A Collapse of Horses, by Brian Evenson

** / *****

Recently, I heard an interview with the horror writer Brian Evenson (The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell: Stories) on The Loser’s Club podcast. He is thoughtful about the craft and genre and has collected 11 major awards, including an O. Henry, a Shirley Jackson, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Intrigued, I sought out a short story to sample and found “A Collapse of Horses” in the free online archive of the (RIP) American Reader. 

The story’s bones: an average guy meets and marries a woman, they make children and fall out of love; he suffers a skull fracture at work, resulting in brain damage that makes him question his reality, e.g., whether he has 3 or 4 kids, or if the house is secretly conspiring against him, etc., which strains the family. Walking one day, he finds a paddock with possibly dead horses, an image that affects him so much that he becomes even more reclusive and agitated until he finally decides to take action, and when he cannot find the paddock, he sets fire to the house (or imagines he did) and kills his family (or perhaps not). He tells this story to a visitor who, we understand, claims to be one of the “dead” family members; by the end, it’s revealed that she claims to be his wife and he abides this, expecting to eventually uncover what she’s truly after.

Evenson starts in the present with the narrator challenging a visitor. All his family members are dead, so why does this visitor claim to be one? Starting here was wise because it: A) drops us into a compelling scene and poses questions the story will set out to answer (who is speaking? what happened to his family? who is the visitor?) B) bookends the conclusion, & C) is a much more engaging opening than “I was an average guy who attended an average school…”

From there, Evenson forgoes a proper story order again, now jumping to the NEXT major question. This Q concerns a forced Schrödinger’s Cat knock-off—the narrator describes four prone horses on the ground in a paddock, but are they alive or dead? More on that below. Next, the story develops in chronological order and finally returns us to the hopital/psychiatric room where we started.

Rapid-fire thoughts on what I read:

  • The thinly disguised Schrödinger knock-off was annoying. Had Evenson added an aside that acknowledged Schrödinger’s famous feline, that would have mitigated my annoyance about him co-opting the idea. 
  • OK, the horses represent the narrator’s fear of knowing whether his children are alive or dead, but the effect could have been achieved without shoehorning a strained quasi-“deep” allegory.
  • I found it difficult to believe that the narrator was so overcome by the sight of the horses that he avoided any chance encounter, finally becoming a recluse.
  • Oy. It took the narrator that long to realize that he could just throw a stone at a horse to see if it moved? And are we to believe that suddenly, upon receiving the idea to throw a rock, the terror of encountering them subsided? Oy, twice.
  • All the page space devoted to the avoidance of horses and the subsequent search for them felt wasted. 
  • Of course the farmer would have noticed the horses on his way to the water trough. And because I don’t believe otherwise, the whole horse storyline felt overwrought and tedious. See next point:
  • Given the hypothetical situation, the narrator asks, “And what, in turn, carrying that paradoxical knowledge in your head, does that make you?” Make me? This is overly dramatic hogwash. It doesn’t make me anything. Neither the narrator (nor I) have any responsibility for the condition of the horses. And it is not his (nor my) responsibility to yell out, “Hey, farmer! Possibly dead ones over here!” The ‘knowledge’ is not nearly as dramatic or important as the story needs you to think it is.

Something I appreciated, however, is how Evenson takes the bones of a straightforward story (man struggles after TBI) and injects a fun horror trope: the house that incrementally shapeshifts. It’s effective because A) we know that the living house is a figment of his traumatized brain, but B) HE doesn’t know that and treats it as fact. It’s the Hitchcock trick of giving us information that the character either doesn’t have or is unable to use. 

EXERCISE: Sketch out the bones of a straightforward story and then inject a horror trope as a secondary (or tertiary) storyline. Present it in a way so that reader understands what is happening, but the character does not.

Unfortunately, I have more items to throw on the Didn’t Enjoy pyre: 

  • The number of children was a major talking point that amounted to little. One expected the extra (or missing) child to be significant, but the kids never did anything. There was no payoff, e.g., the extra child could have attacked the others, or the parents; or, in a moment of clarity, the narrator could have realized that Hannah is missing and his wife has been canvassing the neighborhood for her; or whatever. Evenson loads this ‘3-4 kids’ gun throughout the story, but never fires it. Rather, it’s merely a water pistol whose only purpose was to illustrate the narrator’s confusion. (And, since that’s the case, then ALL that page space devoted to “do I have three kids, or four” was a waste of our time. SEE: Vonnegut’s Rule about time wasting.)
  • The “I took up smoking for a few weeks to have a cover for my arson” was dumb AND even more so when he gives up on trying to start the fire with a cigarette and lights the curtains instead AND even more so when you discover that the fire was imagined. (I mean, come on, it was obviously imagined. Is anyone uncertain??)
  • Evenson begins story with a prerequisite gory image to set it in the horror genre, but wait—the narrator allegedly passed out after the fire and never saw his children/family afterward. So how can he describe their burned faces? Maybe we chalk this up to an Unreliable Narrator, but leading with the lie feels like a cheap trick (see my gripe article about Knives Out: Glass Onion). I assume Evenson felt the need to plug in a gruesome image to appearse the horror fan, so chose this. Bah. Maybe it’s petty, but this detail stuck in my craw. 
  • The narrator claims to worry about his family’s safety in a way that’s intended to convey an emotional affinity (love, even) for them. Yet, none is named—not the wife, not a single kid—nor are they described in any way at all. Perhaps Evenson kept them vague for a reason (e.g., making even their existence questionable), but I found it inconsistent with the narrator’s apparent affection. Even if an Unreliable Narrator, the guy could have worked harder to convince his visitor of his interest in his family. Instead we get fuzzy outlines of characters, and a bunch of page space devoted to the horses. Horse? House? One letter difference?! Wild.
  • The story is overwritten, needs editing. Scary tales depend on ambiguity, so they cannot be specific (specificity would reveal too much and dispel the mystery) and thus tend to be padded with vaguely ominous babble. Horses rings in around 4,000 words; a conscientious editor could have sliced it in half. Vague horror stories (there are too many) always feel like the timid work of a writer without strong ideas, or who had a killer set-up but couldn’t devise of a punchline. (SEE: Paul Tremblay

A reader imagines Evenson sitting down to his computer with the following thoughts:
A) I need a character with traumatic brain injury (TBI) that causes him to question his reality. Lots of horrific potential there.
B) I’ll use the ‘Changing House” trope to root it in the genre and compound his mental strugggle.
C) I need a grisly image to further whet the horror palate…how about the burned, blackened faces of children? That’s sufficiently awful! Bonus: they were burned when the narrator tried to burn the Changing House. BINGO: Father with TBI believes his house is changing by its own volition and when he burns it down, his children perish inside.THE TWIST: Due to his unreliable brain, he might not have burned the house.
D) To execute the twist, I’ll need someone to challenge his perception of reality. How about the wife whom he thought died in his imaginary fire?
D) To suggest intellectual depth, I’ll bastardize a version of Schrödinger’s Cat.
E) The House is a problem. House is close to Horse . . . what about Schrödinger’s Horse?
F) I won’t describe anyone in the story–or anything other than the house–so that both reader and narrator are kept foggy throughout.
G) I will cap this to 4,000 words, which is the maximum tolerance threshold for this kind of vague and paper-thin story.

On the positive side, I am a sucker for the “Changing House” trope, so I enjoyed that aspect of the story. But, despite the creepy house, a few engaging moments, some choice vocabulary (love “paddock”), and evidence of authorial intellect, this piece alone would have quit me on Evenson. With all those awards behind him, however, I am willing to try another story. Send a suggestion, if you have one.


Capitalize on the emotional resonance of a location the way George Saunders does

It took me years to understand the importance of location and how it can make a story more powerful.

In the past, I placed my stories in living rooms. Bedrooms. Offices. The location was unimportant as I focused on getting my characters walking, talking, and bickering. Conflict, I had read, was paramount. Who cared if the curtains were red or black?

Mundane scenery was familiar to me. Although raised on a rural farm, I’ve spent most of the past twenty-seven years in home and office. I wrote what I knew. And besides, my stories were the tight, tiny equivalent of one-act plays. Spare little nuggets, no words wasted, no room for set decoration. I never wrote, “Couches Like White Elephants,” but there’s still time.

Truly, I was impatient and lazy. I didn’t know that by setting stories in locations that are fraught with meaning, you get a free shot of emotional juice. Consider these two potential first lines:

  • The man with the serious face carried the balloon through the living room.
  • The man with the serious face carried the balloon through the nursing home.

living room means little to the reader without context. You’ll need to specify before they can start to feel anything (e.g., the empty living room; the living room littered with dead cats; the living room with the black walls; etc.).

nursing home has all sorts of emotions baked into it. Just the mere mention will prepare some readers to cry because of past sad experiences there. The pump is primed!

Hence, add impact to a story by upgrading your people, places, and things. Choose them for emotion, be it tension, sadness, excitement, horror, or whatever your chosen flavor.

George Saunders has used a Theme Park in many of his stories: “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline,” “Pastoralia,” “Bounty,” and others. George could have set his workplace drama in a familiar cubicle–and sure, there’s tons of shorthand available in that milieu (reference a broken copier and many office drones will twitch with a visceral response)–but Saunders uses (and perhaps over uses) the theme park environment because of A) its uniqueness (he’s really made the theme park genre his own) and B) the emotional memories it is likely to trigger (weird place, boring childhood trips, carnival food, strange enthusiasts, and so on).

Here’s a thought on juxtaposition. My favorite works of art contain a range of emotional notes. There are chuckles found in both Hamlet and The Evil Dead 2. I like when angelic voices sing dark material. Salvador Dali’s paintings of his beloved Gala combined his usual weirdness with naked adoration. Think about your own tastes and find what mashups matter most to you. Have you seen Everything, Everywhere, All at Once? It’s loaded with emotional mashups.

In the Saunders Theme Park stories, horrible things frequently happen, and they catch the reader off-guard because the set-up is so silly. They would be less impactful if the setting was drab, the characters were severe, and then something terrible is piled on. The reader feels a greater emotional punch if you first put them in the opposite mindset. Like a boxer, practice your feint and counterpunch.

For George, the theme park is has been rich soil to mine. What unusual/uncommon/underexplored place is your equivalent of the Saunders Spot? Go write a story set there. I’d bet that you will have a better (or at least different) writing experience, and your work will have more resonance.

An Exercise

Before starting your next story, write a list of ten places where it could be set. E.g., a funeral home, a department store, an emergency room, a vet’s office, a sewage treatment plant, etc. Then, mentally play out your story idea in each location. Your family drama would be hacky at a funeral home (we already have Six Feet Under). Perhaps it would have a weird emotional resonance at a sewage treatment plant where a father and son work side-by-side? Or what about The Sopranos set in kindergarten? Yes, please.

If you try the exercise, drop me a line. I’d love to hear about it and share thoughts.

How to generate a mass of story title options quickly in Excel

Titling stories is the worst part of the storytelling process.

On a rare occasion, a title comes to me as a popcorn thought (“Pinstripe Alley,” “Bandidos”) with a whole story already contained inside. All I must do is unpack it. Those experiences are when I most believe in God and a benevolent universe.

More often, I will chase down a story and kill, skin, and cook it before I even know its name. After all the fun stuff is done and my creative juices are spent, devising a title is tedious. I want to hunt the next one, not sit and fumble my way through word combinations or hurt my brain trying to conceive of the perfect–yet unique and non-clichéd–phrase that encapsulates the story’s apparent theme. It’s drudgery! Give me my rifle and knife and let me go hunting again!

Hence, I’ve often defaulted to a character name (“Guelph,” “Rastaghosta”) or a basic story summation phrase (“Car Trouble,” “New Neighbor,” “Charlie in the Attic”) and called it done. Ineloquent, sure, but it’s better than “Story #115” (a title I have considered using in the past).

Today I stumbled upon a trick that uses Microsoft Excel to simplify the naming process. It still requires a little brain work, but if I can manage it while impatiently blood-lusting for another story, I think you can, too. Here we go.

First, open an MS Excel worksheet.

Next, fill the first column with words that relate to your story. If stuck, start with the people, places, and things of your story. The following image shows a set of top-of-head words that pertain to my latest story (which I currently call “Belinda the Magnificent”, which is, uh, kinda dumb). If you don’t even have a story yet, but want to generate a compelling title, try this: fill your column with words that share a tone, like positivity, or goodness (sunrise, grandma, kiss, etc.). You’ll see why in the next step. TIP: Make sure to leave a space after each word in your cells.

Next, fill the second column with other words that relate to your story. If stuck, list adjectives and thematic/emotional words that pertain to your story. Don’t fret about repetition–in fact, that might be great. If in the previous step you listed positive words, this time list some negatives (kill, blood, death, doom, etc.). The following image shows another set of words that pertain to my “Belinda” story:

Cool, we are halfway there. Next, copy the following formula and enter it into the first cell of row three:

I wish I could cite the website where this came from, but thanks to whomever at whatever. Here’s a screenshot of that formula being entered, as described. Yes, that’s all in the first cell, column three:

Next, select cell one, column three and drag its bottom right corner down the row. If done correctly, you’ll get something like the next image. Keep dragging that formula down the column until it starts returning blank cells.

That’s it. In my third column, I now have 273 possible titles for my “Belinda” story. Most are stinkers, but I scrolled and found some promising options. E.g., I don’t hate “Haunting Features” as a title, and it does apply to part of the story.

Another benefit of generating such a list is that while I scroll, other title possibilities pop into mind. What about “Parental Features” for my story, which is about someone seeing a parent’s resemblance in his partner but also the qualities of a good parent? Hmm. I like it. Done. On to the next hunt!

Before I go, though: As an exercise to generate a random horror story title, I followed the steps described above, but used NEGATIVE words in the first column and POSITIVE words in the second. I now have 4000 horror movie titles to pick from (a screenshot follows). Some are gawdawful, but some . . . not so bad. Would you attend a movie called “Grim Bondage”? I think you might. And couldn’t “Bad Compassion” have been a Ray Liotta movie from the early aughts?

Anyway, if you try this exercise and find it helpful, please let me know so we can share in your success. Peace ’til next time.

Game Preview: Knicks at Raptors-01/22/23

On Sunday, the New York Knicks (25-22) head to Scotiabank Arena for a rematch with the Toronto Raptors (20-26). The Knicks would love to avenge their Martin Luther King Jr. Day overtime loss to the Raptors. Life without Mitchell Robinson is tough, though, as the Knicks learned in their Friday loss to Atlanta. At least the Raptors are playing the second of a back-to-back, lost yesterday, and, according to the injury report, will be without OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet.

Currently sitting eleventh in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors have had three of their last four games decided by two points, including that B.S. 123-121 win at MSG. The Canadian Club leads the season series 2-1 and won the last matchup. Both teams have lost consecutive games, with the Knicks dropping three and Raptors two.

Maybe we’ll see some small ball? Eh? Tip-off’s at 6 p.m., EST, Spielbergians.


With VanVleet out, Toronto spreads the ballhandling duties around. They were lively passers against the Celtics yesterday, and head coach Nick Nurse rolled out Gary Trent Jr.Scottie Barnes, and Anunoby in the starting five. Without Anunoby tonight, who’s next? Maybe Malachi Flynn? Whoever starts will face a trio of Jalen Brunson, Quentin Grimesand RJ Barrett

In the frontcourt for Toronto, Precious Achiuwa  (6’8”, 225 lb.) and Pascal Siakam (6’9”, 230 lb.) will clash with New York’s Julius Randle and Jericho Sims, presumably. Siakam, particularly, is a pest and has averaged 30 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists in three games against the Knicks this season.


The Knicks haven’t matched up well against Toronto in the previous three games. One wonders if Cam Reddish might be helpful against these rangy Raptors, but it’s verboten to suggest that he play because the front office doesn’t want their top trade chip damaged. Such is business.

Toronto makes me nervous. Even without VanVleet, and missing O.G. for part of the game, the Raptors hung with Boston until the end. Still, Jalen and the Knicks are hungry for a win, it’s the weekend, and I’m trying to be more positive in 2023. Knicks by deuce (but not by McBride.)

Toronto, Canuckland. 6:00 p.m., EST. Go Knicks, eh!

Young actors astonish in EPAC’s Waiting for Godot

Street parking came shamefully easily on Friday night in downtown Endicott. It was a shame because Washington Avenue and EPAC’s Robert Eckert Theater should have been overfull with people coming to this season’s thrilling production of Waiting for Godot.

Samuel Beckett’s absurdist allegory, written in 1949, is alive and well under the care of director Patrick Foti and some tremendously talented young actors. Tickets remain available for Saturday’s show and Sunday’s matinee

The play tells the story of two hobos waiting in a desolate spot (not unlike purgatory) for a God(ot) who never comes. They could pass their time creatively, or philosophically—or romantically, one supposes—but in typical Beckett fashion, they mostly natter about the mundane or body aches while they “pass the time.” Occasionally they consider hanging themselves from the scenery’s solitary tree, but even that task is too daunting for this pair.

The slightly smarter of the slow-witted duo is Vladimir, portrayed by Matt Gaska. The actor avails himself wonderfully in the role, as does Dustin Hirthler, who plays Estragon his trusty dusty sidekick. Both young men are thrilling talents and destined to go far beyond the streets of Endicott.

These thespians modulate their voices with masterful appropriateness and comport their bodies with precision. Like me, you may be surprised to find that WFG is a much more physical play than you remember, with dashes of almost Marx-bros-level shtick and some wince-inducing tumbles. These fine actors, especially Hirthler, who is a pliable noodle, can do whatever the stage requires of them.

The quiet touches, though, are where Gaska and Hirthler truly shine. The former uses subtle movement—the fingertip twirling, the bit of pigeon toe—to imbue his role with vibrant life. Both he and Hirthler have excellent voice and face control, and there are moments when the desolation demonstrated by the latter’s frown moved an emotion in this reviewer’s heart that is too often obscured by a crusty boulder. Well done, lads.

Eventually in the play, someone else does arrive, a Falstaffian figure named Pozzo (POZZO!) who keeps another, exhausted human as a slave, leashed by a rope around his neck. Here Beckett hits his point squarely on the nose by naming the latter character Lucky. Interpret that as you will.

More amusing nonsensical dialogue ensues, while our initial hobos struggle to make sense of and converse with the blustery master who mistreats his ward. Eventually, they persuade Pozzo to allow Lucky to “think”, which unleashes a tour de force torrent of uninterrupted, bombastic speech that lasts for minutes while the hobos roll around in apparent discomfort. First, be careful what you wish for, bums. Second: How remarkable it is that the oppressed man had so much to say, but sadly, when finally given the chance, he says it all at once and it comes out as blithering nonsense.

Here, one must stand and applaud the talent of newcomer Nicholas Dabbracci.

As Lucky, Dabbracci spends much of his stage time bent-backed, breathlessly obeying his master’s commands, lugging bags, and near death, mostly. His two big moments in the play come when he is permitted to dance and then think. The dancing is a histrionic performance of explosive spastic movements that, as Beckett intended, startles the audience after so much aimless dialogue.

When Lucky is ordered to think, boy does he have stuff on his mind. Unfortunately, given the chance to finally express himself, all he can do is spitfire, micro-machine-announcer style, a diarrhea dialogue that prattles on forever, signifying nothing. While Dabbracci is mid-rant, after what already feels like minutes, one asks oneself, “How is he doing that?” And by the rap’s conclusion, when his counterparts and his audience feel obliterated by words, there comes an audible sigh of relief from the crowd and an urge to give Dabbracci a standing ovation. It’s a stunning stage debut.

The play continues. Pozzo exits, intending to sell Lucky at the market. A child messenger (played by the winsome Ciaran Kane, who does his damndest to keep a straight face, God bless him) arrives to relay the news that Godot, while not busy, will not be visiting today. Please try back tomorrow. 

And so the hobos do, and once again wait. Pozzo and Lucky return, the same but different, what with the master being afflicted by sudden blindness and therefore even more dependent upon his servant.

Brett Alan Dewing plays the part of Pozzo and was more settled into the role in the Second Act. Physically he is perfectly matched, but he lacks the vocal command of his play partners. His yelling at Lucky in the First Act is too loud, as though he’d been directed to go to the top of his register, a Spinal Tap 11, when a nine or even eight would suffice. Still, he fits the Pozzo costume perfectly, and it can be hard to find nuance when playing smarm, which he lays on thick. He’s a one-man marching band, blaring through a dust bowl and a perfect foil to the faded Vladimir and Estragon.

Finally, Pozzo and Lucky depart again. The messenger boy returns to announce: sorry, no Godot today, but try again tomorrow. The play ends with our hobo heroes exactly where we found them, still waiting for Godot.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see these excellent performers delivering the goods in a great play at EPAC this weekend. To do so would be not so lucky.

Blur > Oasis

Most popular songs follow a I-IV-V or I-V-IV chord progression. An example of the first is “Blowin’ in the Wind”, and the second is “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. Or, see anything by The Ramones. The chords in these progressions cooperate so harmoniously and resolve so pleasingly back to the root that they can easily become earworms.

From my limited understanding, Oasis wrote those kinds of songs. My understanding is limited because I’ve only ever heard the hits, and my one or two dives into this or that album were aborted due to boredom. Still, I’ve endured the same handful of Oasis songs so many times—in stores, passenger seats, sporting events—that like you perhaps, I can recite their lyrics from memory. That means I’m no expert in their catalog, but I do hold opinions about their most popular half-dozen.

On the planet of Gallagher, they just want to fly, they don’t want to die. They walk down halls, faster than cannonballs. The girls are named Sally. Usually, Oasis would prefer that you stop doing something, whether that be looking back in anger or crying your heart out. It’s totally fine that they love to rhyme and whine all the time!

As for the music, their backing tracks are the kind of polished, sweet lozenges that Jeff Lynne might manufacture just for fun on a lazy Sunday and file away in his vault for posterity. Maybe that sounds harsh, so let me clarify: 1) Jeff Lynne is a master, and 2) Oasis creates very palatable soundscapes that are just a little too unadventuresome for my taste.

Yet, some days, I just want a bland, melodic song to fill in the background while working, and, sure, Oasis can provide that—not that I ever think to listen to them in those instances, but, in theory, they could. And truly, some Oasis songs are bangers despite their insipid, inane, idiot, stupid, maddening words. 

OK, here is an ad hominem objection, separate from the quality and competency of their product: I might like Oasis more if Liam Gallagher had stage dived to his death during their first tour. I must admit that his well-documented shitty personality does factor into my assessment of his band—which is a bummer because I probably could appreciate his mastermind brother’s songcraft if I gave it an unbiased chance. But there are still a million bands I haven’t heard yet, and so many other listening experiences to be had, that when I see the Oasis sign on the side of the road, I get a mental flash of that dickhead Liam and drive right past it to the Love Shack, baby!

And, another admission, I haven’t tried N.G.’s High Flying Birds because I’m disinterested in Noel’s vox, which can be fairly described as adequate. Let’s say, less bono than Bono.

If the boys in Blur aced their SATs, those Oasis lads would cheat off your paper. Noel Gallagher writes (still does, I assume) catchy chants that are perfectly suited for a daisy-chained crowd of drunken football fans. Maybe that’s why I’ve always considered them a quintessentially British band, whereas while Damon Albarn’s crew possess some of that same Brit-snottiness, I would expect them to be delighted to travel by bus to Wall Drug, where they could amuse themselves by deriding Americana tchotchkes.

Blur tested the limits of traditional song forms and eventually attempted to eschew them completely. Like The Beatles, they had the chops and the looks to be an enormously successful band, and asked, “But why?” Their first album Leisure predated Oasis’s Definitely Maybe by three years, but its lead track, “She’s So High” sounds not dissimilar to a Noel Gallagher ditty. By Leisure’s second song and subsequent songs, Blur had already grown bored and begun exploring, bravely throwing in the odd flat note for tension’s sake, or playing with speed. Comparatively, I can’t imagine Gallagher ever deviating from key or allowing his drums to sound like anything other than a metronomically precise machine.

Like the Beatles, Blur would jump all over the musical timeline, leaping from a throbbing discotheque to an old ragtime hall, with a melancholy hike along the White Cliffs of Dover in between. With each successive album, they progressively deconstructed their music—and, in the case of startlingly handsome Albarn, themselves. (Seriously, I always thought Damon could have a profitable career as an actor playing whatever parts Jude Law declined.) 

Per Wikipedia, sometime around 1996-97, “Under the suggestion of the band’s guitarist, Graham Coxon, the band underwent a stylistic change, becoming influenced by American indie rock bands such as Pavement.” I can see that. I listened to Blur in real time, buying every album upon release and listening all the way through that day, and upon finishing 1999’s 13, I was convinced that a) Damon needed a script for Zoloft, and b) this band gave zero shits about their bank accounts.

And yet, amidst their experimentation, Blur would occasionally toss off a rocker like “Song 2” to remind you what they COULD do but chose not to. That’s a perfect example, actually: “Song 2” may have the most intentionally dumb lyrics of any anthem played at modern sports arenas. American sports arenas. Their hit “Girls & Boys” is still played at dance clubs, and it’s another instance of them taking the piss out of a conventional form.

Truth: If I were in a band, I’d want it to be Blur-like, but with Oasis money.

Another truth: I dislike Liam & Damon almost equally. Arrogant shits, both. The difference is that Albarn has genuine talent to back it up, whereas Gallagher can merely sing a small range of notes in key and is stranded without his brother (or another songwriter) to hand him a lyric sheet and a bottle of claret.

A decade on, you’ll still hear “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Wonderwaaaaall” sung by the inebriated rabble around a soccer pitch, which is a testament to Noel Gallagher’s particular genius. Maybe you’ll still hear “Song 2” during time-outs at Lakers games, too. Between these bands, though, Blur will be the one respected by listeners who appreciate traditional pop/rock groups that attempt to test the limit of their art—and try to make art—and, most days, I am such a listener. Hence, for me, Blur is >.

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Unpopular Opinion: Glass Onion, not so shiny.

By Russell Richardson

As busy parents, my wife and I rarely have time for a movie night. When Christmas Eve presented such an opportunity, we chose Glass Onion, Rian Johnson’s sequel to his enjoyable Knives Out, which promised to be an equally light-yet-twisty, Agatha Christie-esque ensemble piece without any excessive grimness, explicitness, or violence that would have been too heavy on Christmas Eve, especially with Santa’s cookies waiting to be eaten on the table before us.

We should have picked the Weird Al bio-pic.

In G.O., a group of five unlikable, Colorform characters—all close friends, we’re meant to believe—is summoned to the island of billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) for a murder-mystery weekend. Among the guests is a governor (Kathryn Hahn), a Twitch-streamer (Dave Bautista), a former model (Kate Hudson), a brilliant programmer (Leslie Odom, Jr.), and Hercule Poirot—nay Benoit Blanc, the world’s preeminent detective, although who exactly invited Daniel Craig’s cunning cornpone is unclear. You’ll remember him from Knives.

The fifth “friend” invited is Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), the co-founder of Bron’s Google/Facebook/Tesla-type company and who was recently betrayed by Miles in court. Tension looms as we learn that all the friends are all unhappily beholden to Bron, and when one guest dies, Blanc sets out to figure out whodunit and why.

The film begins with each of the five friends receiving and trying to solve a puzzle box sent by Bron. The puzzle box is a fun conceit and as the friends video conference, working together to find a solution, their personalities are revealed by dialogue, actions, and locations. The bit runs long, however, and by the time they’ve opened their boxes and extracted invitations to Bron’s island, I found myself already tired of their company.

Meanwhile, we find Blanc feeling bored and trapped indoors by COVID-19. In fact, we’re led to assume that the pandemic will feature prominently in the film, but no. Neither the virus crisis nor Blanc’s boredom has fuckall to do with him going to the island (as we eventually learn). We encounter no masks for the first ten minutes of the movie—no one wears them at Birdie Jay’s party, not even the sensible-seeming, cameoing Yo-Yo Ma.

When the cast assembles on a dock and waits to board the island-bound boat, they’re inoculated by a mysterious spray—administered by guest star Ethan Hawke—that absolves them of any coronavirus concern for the movie’s remainder.

So, why acknowledge the COVID crisis at all? The vaccination rounds might serve to further characterize the characters, but these are cardboard cut-outs already. We can guess that the Twitch streamer will be corona-skeptical and that the flaky model would wear a mesh facemask. The whole dock sequence felt like a waste of time, and the pandemic is just another story block that connects with nothing else down the line. But shhh—your enjoyment of the film requires you not to question it.

Everyone arrives at the island. Everyone sucks. We follow them around and learn all the ways Miles Bron holds power over their lives. He is so rich, he has the actual Mona Lisa at his compound because the Louvre needed money during the pandemic. Your response might differ, but I thought, “That’s stupid.”

But that’s not the stupidest thing about this movie.

We spend an hour with Benoit Blanc as our eye into this world, our POV character, only to learn that we’ve been misled by him. After a dramatic murder, Johnson Scooby-Doo’s us back to the week preceding the start of the movie. We find out that Andy has evidently committed suicide but has an identical twin who brings Bron’s puzzle box to Blanc. Sister wants his help to prove that she was murdered. Together they will go to the island and find the evidence they need. She’ll cut her hair to look like Andy! She’ll study Andy’s copious journals to get into character!

My complaint: the twin-sibling-stand-in is a groan-worthy trope. If I was surprised by the “twist” at all, it was that after an hour of build-up, I didn’t expect Johnson to reveal such a hackneyed gimmick.

The intention is clear. Knives Out had an endearing protagonist, and Johnson wanted the twin sister to connect with the audience, especially since all the other characters suck suck suck. Yet, the sister arrives too late, and we’re given little reason to care about her, except that she wants justice and has an adorable accent.

Your response might differ, but I thought, “This is stupid.”

But that’s not the stupidest thing about this movie.

We learn that Andy once wrote a master business plan on a cocktail napkin while with friends at their favorite dive bar. She shared the plan with Miles and together they formed Google, Twitter, or whatever. Later, due to irreconcilable differences, Bron squeezed her out of the company and claimed to have drawn up the napkin. Their friends, by now all subordinates to Miles, lied in court to corroborate his story.

The whole movie hinges on this napkin. Here’s the problem: if Andy was such a meticulous, daily diarist that her twin sister could learn everything about her life—and after only a brief period of study!—then the napkin is meaningless. Andy’s attorney would need only to submit into evidence those journals in which she would have fleshed out her business blueprints.

Also: Why again does Miles often carry a blow-torch device? He doesn’t smoke, right? It’s just a Chekhov’s Gun, intended to set the napkin on fire in the final act, right?

Alas, what a disappointing installment in an otherwise promising franchise. The broken chronology of the film does it no favors, none of its characters are likable, and the red herring napkin that serves as the movie’s fulcrum is pointless. And for all this they destroyed the Mona Lisa?

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New Coloring Book! “Super Cooper and Mrs. Cook: Friends Forever!”

Hey friends! I’m thrilled to present the latest publication. Written by Tara Busch, “Super Cooper and Mrs. Cook: Friends Forever!” is a coloring book illustrated by yours truly. It tells about Cooper’s relationship with Mrs. Cook, and how she upholds his legacy in her classroom. All proceeds go to the Super Cooper Saves the Day foundation. Order yours today from Amazon and get coloring! Buy your copy here!

Not interested in a coloring book? Why not visit our friends at Best Buy instead?

Cavaliers 121, Knicks 108: “Damn DM with the smackdown!”

Donovan Mitchell rubs a 38-point game in New York’s face and the Cavs win with 23 made threes.

Cavalier fans filled the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to capacity for Sunday evening’s match-up with the New York Knicks (3-3). According to the MSG broadcasting duo Walt Frazier and Mike Breen, the venue had a “playoff-like atmosphere,” due in no small part to the presence of Donovan Mitchell, who proved his value tonight, smacking down the Knicks 121-108.

The Knicks had pursued the three-time All-Star heavily in the off-season, and this was their first chance to see him in the wine and gold. The Mitchell-led Cavs (5-1) have gotten off to a ferocious start. They last played on Friday, in an overtime victory that saw him and fellow guard Caris LeVert each drop 41 points on the Celtics. Not only is Donovan a star, but his surrounding cast ain’t shabby either.

Before tonight’s game, the Cavs were second in the league with a net-rating of 11.5—but New York wasn’t far behind in fifth with a 4.7 rating. This game had all the makings of an exciting contest, with two top-ten defenses, the Mitchell storyline, Jalen Brunson blossoming as lead Knick, and New York tied for third-most points scored per game (119.8). Add the fact that the Cavs are short-handed at the guard position, with Darius Garland and Ricky Rubio sidelined by injuries, and the Knicks had a fighting chance in this one.

The Knicks started slowly yet again, going 0-for-5 before Julius Randle scored their first points. Donovan Mitchell drew first blood with a 29’ three-point jumper. He went 3-for-4 from downtown early, to help goose the Cavs to a 16-11 lead by Tiibodeau’s first time out at the 6:27 mark.

Clearly, Mitchell brought emotion into this tilt, scoring 15 points in the first 11 minutes and finishing the game with 38 points and 12 assists while shooting 12-for-20 and 8-for-13 from deep. If he held a grudge about not ending up on the team of his youth, then point taken, Spida. 

RJ Barrett had probably his best shooting half of the season, going 4-for-7 from the floor, and 3-for-3 from deep. This season, RJ had shot 4-for-28 (14%) from three, so this was a welcome sign of life from the Maple Mamba. His efficiency helped to keep the Knicks competitive in the first half.

The Cavs shot 9-for-16 (56%) from deep in the first frame, with two from Dean Wade (2) and five from Mitchell. The Knicks, however, had gone 5-for-8 (63%) from beyond the arc, and thanks to their accurate shooting, they were only down 35-30 at the end of Q1. 

Kevin Love (aka Dorian Gray) continues to provide a spark off the Cavaliers bench. The 15-year vet chipped in 10 points in nine first half minutes and finished the game with 29 points in 22 minutes. For the Knicks, Obi Toppin stood out in the second quarter, with alley-oops and crafty moves, like so:

And this: 

Neither team could maintain the blistering shooting accuracy, of course. The Cavs gave the Knicks opportunities—a transition take foul, a foul behind the arc—but New York left the gift points on the board and, thus, struggled to close the gap. 

By halftime, New York trailed 62-59. They had shot 6-for-10 from the charity stripe and 47% from both the field and three. There were encouraging signs for the second half, though. New York had won the battle for points in the paint 28-16 and fast break points 14-11, and committed only five turnovers.

Randle and Brunson came out like gangbusters after intermission, combining for six quick points and sharp passing that powered New York to a 67-65 lead and forcing J. B. Bickerstaff to call a quick timeout. That breather couldn’t slow the Brunson and Randle train, though, and they opened up an eight-point lead.

By the end of the third frame, the Knicks had spread the margin to nine, up 93-84. They outscored the Cavs 34-22 with an electrifying 19-point turnaround. (h/t/Mike Breen)

Mitchell Robinson got into foul trouble early again, with four fouls in 13 minutes. Once more, Isaiah Hartenstein filled in with extensive minutes. Despite a few defensive lapses, he played well overall and finished the game with 12 points and nine rebounds, shooting 6-for-10.

For a while tonight, Randle looked like the player we cherished two seasons ago. Crisp passing. Bully ball in the paint. Also deserving of credit was another vet, Evan Fournier, who shot 6-for-9 FG and 3-for-4 from deep, including this beauty: 

Early in the fourth, a Donovan Mitchell spin-jam chipped at the Knicks’ lead and was particularly stinging. Sure, I would have loved to see him do that nightly for the Knicks. I know: spilled milk, no crying, yadda yadda. I won’t bring it up any more. . . . With a four-point play shortly after the dunk, Mitchell nullified the Knicks advantage and tied the game with about seven minutes remaining.

Soon after, the Knicks gave up a second four-point play, this time to Love. Poor New York defense devoured their thrilling lead and left them first in a five-point hole with four minutes left, then an eleven-point trench with three to go.  

Anchored by center Jarrett Allen and Power forward Evan “Albatross Arms” MobleyCleveland’s defense was just too strong down the stretch. The Knicks were depleted after expending all that third-quarter energy. They managed only 15 fourth-quarter points. Randle reverted to last year’s version, Brunson was stymied by Cleveland’s D, Fournier’s three-pointers lost their lift, etc. Down by nine with a minute and a half to go, the Knicks threw in the towel, and even Mike Breen declared, “This one is over.”

Your final 121-108, Cavs.


  • If other metrics besides total points decided a game’s outcome, New York would have been victorious. They won on fast break points (28-14), rebounds (45-43), steals (9-3), and points in the paint (64-32). They tied the Cavs with 14 turnovers and 18 points off turnovers.
  • Things got chippy between Raul Neto and Immanuel Quickley in the second quarter, with Neto committing two consecutive B.S. fouls on IQ. I struggle to recall anyone else Quickley has beefed with. Nobody, right? Correct me in the comments if I’m forgetting someone.
  • This year’s Knicks aren’t greyhounds, but their pace has improved to dead-middle of the league (15th) at game-time. The Cavs, on the other hand, are slowpokes without Garland, and their pace ranked 27th.
  • Awful, awful Reddish game. I think Thibs wanted him in the game to combat the length of the Cavalier frontcourt, but he was a total liability tonight. Quentin Grimes, we need you.

Quoth Kaisersoser37: “Damn DM with the smackdown!” Of course. Did we expect any less? The Knicks are 0-3 on the road, but fortunately, they return home to battle the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. Better results next time, I bet. Peace til then.

The Cloudmaker’s Recipe Book: A Christmas Tale

I love working on fun projects for little readers. (I have one at home, after all.) And boy am I crazy about making books. Hence, I am overjoyed to present “The Cloudmaker’s Recipe Book: A Christmas Tale” by my brother-from-another Brent Beckley.

This story of Jonathan Jeremiah Johnson will be a nifty stocking stuffer or a fun read any time of year. Illustrations by yours truly, of course. Order yours exclusively from Amazon, or contact us for potential discounts, bulk options, signed copies, etc.

Here’s what it’s about: Santa has many friends you know, like Jack Frost, Mother Nature, and even the Easter Bunny. But you’ve probably never heard of one of his oldest friends, Jonathan Jeremiah Johnson, the Cloudmaker. When he was a young man, Jonathan invented a machine he called the Terribly Terrific Tubthumper and began to make clouds in his home. When the neighbors complained about the noise, he wrote a letter to Santa for help, which is exactly what he got. Armed with his unique recipe book filled with special ingredients, his marvelous invention, and with a lot of help from Santas’ elves, Jonathan makes and sends magical clouds all around the world. This is the story of how a young inventor became one of Santa’s oldest friends.

If you get a copy, send a picture!

Order Here from Amazon.