Hoopty Time Machines: fairy tales for grown ups

Atticus Books, 2016

Hoopty Time Machines draws you in, chews you up, and spits you back out more emotionally unstable than you were before. In this collection, DeWan created 49 down-to-earth, absolutely gut wrenching short shorts. Some of them creep up on you, and just when you think you are free to move on to the next page, blast you with a head full of bricks. Others take their time and are slow, methodical. They make you wait and anticipate the ending. Even when you expect the ending, DeWan’s brilliant use of language and his well-crafted, strong characters will still manage to tear a piece of your heart off in the process. 

Some are as short as a sentence and still manage to pack a punch in at the end, as in “Conestoga Wagon”:

               When he lost his job at Best Buy, Dad packed all of our things into a Conestoga 
               Wagon and we crossed the border into Canada, in search of the American Dream. [p.1]

DeWan takes everyday experiences, like a dad losing his job, and turns them into something ugly, something painful, something beautiful. He sends his readers through a whirlwind of emotion and barely gives them time to recover before moving on. His choice to format his stories as short shorts is fitting and frustrating. The short short format allows him to take as little time as possible to create the most emotionally impactful moment. At the same time, each of these moments moves by so quick that by the end of each piece, you can’t quite remember what the last one was about. Short short format is hard to perfect, but DeWan uses it flawlessly. Although his stories are short and quick, their fleeting quality is what keeps them potent. As a reader, you are thrown into someone else’s life. You get to see all the skeletons in their closet and then they shove you away and slam the door in your face.

In his longer pieces, “Goldilocks and the Three Boys,” “Blog of the Last Man on Earth,” and “Rapunzel’s Tangles,” he achieves the same emotional impact in a roundabout way. These stories feel less like short shorts and more like a short story sprayed with fairytailesque lessons and imagery. In order for the longer works to have an impact in a book dotted with so many shorter pieces, DeWan has to create the same tensions. He lacks in this respect, but what he lacks in tension he makes up for in storytelling. Some of longer pieces, such as Rapunzel’s Tangles, masterfully combine fairy tales with a modern day setting. These stories would not have as much of an impact if they were shorter, because DeWan needs to take the time to tell both stories to his reader, the fairy tale and its modern counterpart. His longer stories get to the heart of what a modern “fairy tale” really is.

Atticus Books calls DeWan’s collection one of “wistful domestic fabulism ”. One that you should not take off the shelf unless you are committed to falling in love with a world not quite our own; characters not quite like us; emotions you’ve never felt quite intensely before. This collection is a wide-reaching expedition into moments that are sometimes funny, often tragic, and always memorable.

EMILY TEITSWORTH is a BA candidate in creative writing and publishing at Susquehanna University and an editorial intern for The Adirondack Review. Her work has been previously published in The Apeiron ReviewStone Canoe, and several undergraduate publications including Rivercraft and FUSE-National. 
The Adirondack Review