, June 3 through July 22, 2006

Sunday, 23 July 2006 06:31 Douglas Hoffman
“The Decline of the West”
“The North”
“They’ll be Happy to Hear That”
“The Idea Bus”

The latest batch from ultrashort storyteller Bruce Holland Rogers contains an assortment of fables and vignettes which are, for the most part, light, entertaining tales.

In “The Decline of the West,” a lonely retiree takes the narrator’s advice to heart and reads Spengler’s Decline of the West, with disturbing results. Although “The Decline of the West” weaves interesting motifs of obsession and ulterior motives, the story ends on a flat note.

“The North” is a grim, haunting tale of a minstrel who sings a dangerous song about the emperor. He’s punished for it, but the song lives on. As in Rogers’s story “The Storyteller is Dead, Long Live the Storyteller,” previously reviewed here, or in his award-winning story “Don Ysidro,” the author plays with the way ideas (stories, songs) take on a life of their own. It’s neither a challenging or controversial concept, yet Rogers consistently makes the theme engaging.

Paranoia runs through “They’ll be Happy to Hear That,” a story which seems to invoke Kafka by its use of initials for the main speakers: M, a contented fellow, and K, a man who makes money by gathering seemingly meaningless bits of information. It’s a timely story with a humorous and somewhat creepy conclusion: perhaps the point is not the information, but the information-gathering process, and the chill it sends through the citizenry.

According to Gary’s friend, Robbie, the best thing about cross-country bus trips is the opportunity it affords for brainstorming. But in “The Idea Bus,” Gary’s thoughts take a bloody turn when the journey becomes more unpleasant than he had planned. Rogers’s preface states that he had just completed a 1300 mile trip on a Greyhound bus. Presumably, no one was harmed in the writing of this story.