Why God Why by Matt Rowan
Love Symbol Press, 2013; 151 pp
Reviewed by Dillon J Welch
Matt Rowan’s collection, Why God Why, is overtly eager, always grasping for the highest shelf, no matter the height disparity. It’s the delightful reimaging of your hometown’s narrow streets. Few contemporary fiction writers have the wherewithal to reach into the odd corners of dusty rooms, and not only pull out something wholly unique, but give that something an always-aching heart of its own.
Why God Why reads like a collection of pamphlet-sized fables and fairytales for the modern world. In “The Mayor,” pavement is removed from the streets (for no apparent reason) by a man elected to lead, causing town-wide confusion and aggravation. In “How Much Garbage Bag Blood Do You Suppose Doctors Can Put Back Inside You?” a man arrives at the ER after accidentally opening a portal to another dimension with his power drill, a dimension where another drill-wielding man decides to drill into the main character’s abdomen, giving him a trash bag to collect the now-gushing blood. These stories have the tendency to dip into bizzare (and sometimes foolish) territory, but always pull in the reins before strolling too far.
One thing Rowan does particularly well in this collection is play on the reader’s ability to relate conversationally. His stories often employ an informal, talky tone that for some may be irksome, but for most can be enjoyed like a leisurely viewing of a reality TV show. In “Money To Be Rich,” the speaker explains the process in which the reader should accrue wealth:
“What you do to be rich is, if you’re doing it the hard way, is, if you are also legally minded, is
you go to your big safe. You go to your big safe and you, and here’s the tricky part, you, and you need to have a combination, you use that combination, say it’s 1-2-and lastly-7, and I’m not
saying that is the combination to my safe, and you go into, walk inside, that now-open big safe,
and you take out money, or you take out gold, or you take out the jewels, and you can turn
those last two into money, and that is how you get money to be rich again: you go to your one
big safe, not the smaller ones, and you get money, gold or the jewels.”
This excerpt is, frankly, a nightmare grammatically, but that’s okay. Much like the Bundren’s of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, this character is tragically flawed, has no real sense of reality, and could quite possibly be borderline illiterate. The language employed by Rowan in this way only serves to strengthen the profile and the believability of the character.
In “Model Home,” which is one of the longer stories (see: not very long) of the collection, an inanimate mannequin—with the ability to think but not speak—is at first offended by the presence of a wandering human home-invader, but soon realizes this may be the only friend he’s ever had. This is undoubtedly the beauty of Rowan’s storytelling: his ability to lay out a narrative as strange as feet, but with the grace and emotion to leave behind mental footprints.