Book Review: “Grab Bag” by Zachary Shatzer

Come with me, and together we shall flee from this humdrum world of endless reboots and sequels, of the same petty outrages and tired memes of a worn-out culture. Let us escape instead into the pages of Mr. Shatzer’s new collection of stories.

Here we will find a mysterious man, in equal parts whimsical and sinister; much as if Willy Wonka formed a partnership with Cooger & Dark. Here also we find the misadventures of a man called Crumley, and of Melville’s Scrivener, reimagined as a tough cop working the mean streets.

Here, now, we see the mad onion dip thief who recounts his strange proclivity in excruciating detail, and here a spy, obsessed with hot dogs, and here a cyberpunk dystopian tale of a boy and his squirrel.

Do these things sound strange to you? I bet they do. They should. Our world is a strange one best filtered, as it is by Shatzer, through the lens of humor. The humor of the absurd, the bizarre, and the ridiculous.

The best books, I heard someone say once, are like windows into the universe that exists within the author’s brain. Every brain holds a universe, but alas, we can only really experience the one that exists in our own. In that sense, we might as well already be in the pods as depicted in The Matrix. But art gives us a glimpse at what goes on in other brains, and the patterns that run through Shatzer’s work echo other books of his. There’s a little of the Beach Wizard in Cal, the man who runs a mysterious diner, and a little of Percival Pettletwixt in Cornelius Mysterious.

How Shatzer manages to be so effortlessly, and unselfconsciously, funny is something I still can’t quite understand. For instance, in one story, passing reference is made to fires started by a character called “Howard Arson, a local moron.”

This is hilarious. I laughed out loud. Why is this so funny? I do not know. If I knew, perhaps I’d be as funny as Shatzer. But I’m not.

Yes, all told, I recommend this book to anyone and everyone who enjoys a good funny story. It’s wild and zany and goofy and bizarre, and I enjoyed each and every story, and when I had finished, I could only wish there were more.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?