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Crooked Timber
A.M. Arruin
Green Magpie Press, 216 pages

Crooked Timber
A.M. Arruin
A.M. Arruin is the pen name of Randy Schroeder, an instructor in the Department of English at Mount Royal College in Calgary, Alberta.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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OK, I'm going to have to admit this right up front. Crooked Timber is seriously weird.

A.M. Arruin is a pen name for long time Alberta SF fan and college instructor, Randy Schroeder, and there is absolutely no question that Schroeder can write. He says Mike Resnick once told him that his writing "was among the most technically accomplished he'd seen, and absolutely the least publishable." I'd say that was a good call.

Crooked Timber is a collection of "suburban faerie tales" that take place in some morphing collision of reality and unreality pulled primarily from three sources. The first source is the bizarre and macabre folk tales of Eastern Europe as carried to the Canadian prairies by immigrants. Schroeder came by these stories honestly, growing up in a Mennonite family in Lethbridge.

In the introduction to Crooked Timber he says: "Dobruja, Bohemia, Bessarabia, Medjumurje, Vojvodina.... The names were fantastical to my ears, coined and conjured, no more true than Narnia or Mordor or Antarctica."

The second influence is the suburbia that many of us grew up in, where the dark places are ravines full of crashed shopping carts and graffiti-sprayed undersides of freeway bridges, and urban myths are passed around the softball fields or whispered over slushies behind the convenience store.

And the third influence is Schroeder himself, who -- let's face it -- must be one strange dude.

Put these together and you get stories like "Rumpelstiltzky," in which Rolf Pongracz, the worst player on the worst ball hockey team in the worst suburb of town is unexpectedly visited by a foul-mouthed dwarf who transforms the Gutheads into champions -- all at a price, of course. (Think of Baba Yaga playing with the Bad News Bears.)

Or "The Spider's Boy," in which Kent and his poodle-sized spider move into Dead Man's Ravine, and build a teepee from seven hockey sticks and a sleeping bag donated by an itinerant bottle picker named Frankel.

My personal favourite is the story "Thirteen" which takes place in the "Plus Fifteen" corridors that connect the office towers of an unnamed city (which is Calgary). Having personally worked in those office buildings and travelled the Suit-infested Plus Fifteens, I can attest that they are an ideal setting for the tale of a personal injury lawyer who sells his soul for the secret of the perfect shoeshine.

Readers who tackle Crooked Timber will not be in any danger of confusing these stories with anything else they've read lately. Many will be left scratching their heads. And a few will feel as if they've discovered the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (guarded by a Slavic leprechaun with braces).

Copyright © 2005 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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