Author Rob Dinsmoor’s long time bread-and-butter work as a medical writer informs the frightening backyard barbecue tale—about environmental pollution and lax parenting — on which TOXIC COOKOUT is based. Another major ingredient is Dinsmoor’s passion for yoga, especially in his Pushcart Prize-nominated story “Kundalini Yoga at the Arkham YMCA.” The wry tone of the author’s stories comes from decades of immersion in the world of comedy, including publishing his college student humor magazine, helping to establish a comedy troupe in New York City, and writing for MTV and Nickelodeon. Adding in the H.P. Lovecraft seasoning of fictional Arkham, Massachusetts, the flavors of Dinsmoor’s stories marry in a fascinating stew of modern dilemmas and fantasy.
The opening story, “Selfies,” focuses on a pair of teen girls obsessed with cell phones and sexual appeal. Its sly ending conjures the “Oh snap!” offhandedness of the 2000s decade. The last piece, “Truck Stop,” involves an extraterrestrial lapping water from a toilet bowl in a rural doughnut shop’s outdoor bathroom. Sandwiched in-between are tales of almost joyous acquiescence to climate change (“Surf’s Up”) and elaborate business scams (digital identity theft by Russians in “Grand Opening” and a multi-level marketing product that results in creepy transformations in “The Generation Pyramid”).
“The Generation Pyramid” says a lot with few words about the self-centered nature of its central character, a sex-starved millionaire who perceives himself as having “a stake” in a middle-aged woman with “youthfully bratty good looks.” In “Times are Different in Port St. Joe,” a few details — a road that suddenly becomes a riverbed and a multitude of horseshoe crabs that seem too far inland from the Florida shore — indicate a wormhole journey through time.
The short story is an art form requiring spare yet spot-on communication of character and setting, and Dinsmoor measures out just enough information about the people and places in his stories to let readers form their own mental pictures. TOXIC COOKOUT has flaws, including unfortunate gaffes in proofreading and an occasional flat story ending (“My Mob Super”).
Fast-paced and fanciful, the horror stories of TOXIC COOKOUT grabs the reader and zings with twisted, Lovecraftian views of current events and bewildering modern gadgetry. It’s a trip.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader