Wood by Robert Dunbar; Uninvited Books; 2012; 170 KB pgs; $2.95 US

Not everyone loves a misfit, but Robert Dunbar sure does have a soft spot in his heart for them.  Whether you read his long form fiction (The Pines, The Shore, Willy) or his shorter stories (Martyrs And Monsters), there is no doubt that Dunbar has an affinity for those who are stigmatized or otherwise less fortunate.  In addition, there are very few writers that are as brilliant as Robert Dunbar is when it comes to using a characters misfortune as a metaphor for the injustice, the ignorance, and the belligerence that is so prevalent in these times.  And the thing is, his brilliance is born of subtlety.

There’s no finger pointing, name calling, or ranting in Dunbar’s fiction.  It’s the gradual realization that we are reading a morality play in his tales that adds a depth to our enjoyment that was unexpected.   It is safe to say that when you pick up any work written by Robert Dunbar that you are going to get a hell of a lot more than its blurbed plot line would suggest.  Wood not only continues in this tradition, it just may be his best example of it yet.

Wood is presented essentially as a three character horror tale where the readers are introduced to each of the characters separately and then are witnesses to their violent introduction.

The first character of note is a monster, and as far as monsters go, this one is a dozy.  It’s presented as an over-the-top, large, insect-looking like creature that initially appears to be as simple as it is single minded.  It is a hungry creature that with little thought, devours every living thing it comes into contact with.  Its territory was once considered a decent neighborhood located in a large city, but due to its appetite, it has managed to decimate it by either eating everyone or chasing them away.  But as the story progresses, so does the creature.  It begins to perceive his prey as more than just lunch; it begins to find it…interesting.

The second character is Richard Wood, a lonely gay man who lives in the same general area as the monster.  He’s the nicest guy you could ever meet, maybe too nice, as he has had a lot of trouble with his relationships with men.  We see Richard drinking his tea, meeting with and commiserating with an older transvestite, and finally, taking a curious interest on a young girl who arrives unexpectedly at his apartment.

The third character is that of the young girl who knocks on Richard’s door.  She is a ward of the State due to the aggressive overtures of her mother’s boyfriend.  Her name is Rosaria and she has just escaped from her institutional home in search of the only person who has ever loved her, her grandmother.  She leaves her State home with only the vaguest clue to where her grandmother lives and quickly becomes lost.  When she finds herself being stalked by someone or something, she knocks on Richard’s door in desperation.  After a while Rosaria leaves Richard’s apartment and heads off to her grandmother’s house, and she eventually finds it.  But unbeknownst to her, both Richard and the monster, for very different reasons, have followed her.  The results of which is one hell of an action packed battle inside grandmother’s house that is violent and, at times, wickedly humorous.

The first half of Wood starts off with plenty of back-story and exposition, all of it told splendidly with some of the best descriptive writing Dunbar has offered to date.  His writing in the first half is personal and is at times extremely haunting.  It is so atmospheric it often reminded me of Greg Gifune’s work with its bone chilling setting and its depressing and brooding tone.

The second half of Wood however was its polar opposite. Dunbar had me at the edge of my seat with his action scenes that at turns were honest-to-God terrifying and emotionally wrenching.  And without giving out any spoilers, I thought the ending at first satisfying and  pleasantly unexpected. But after a quick reflection, I thought it shockingly brutal and sad.

With Wood, Dunbar has written a tale that manages to gently poke the consciousness of his readers while providing them one hell of an entertaining story.  And while Wood’s layers run deep, most readers will have little trouble gleaning Dunbar’s message of tolerance, longing, and unrealistic expectations. .

Robert Dunbar’s, Wood, is highly recommended.

Mar 16, 2012

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