3-Minute Book Review: Burgess on Tompkins

Three-Minute Book Review: Katie Burgess on Failures by Matt Tompkins (Monday Night Press, 2019).


If this book were a GIF, which would it be? It would be that one where the guy is pushing a trashcan but then trips and falls all the way inside the trashcan; only it’s slowed down and paired with very poignant music [see below] and a flashback that humanizes the guy and makes you cry even as you’re still laughing. The stories in this collection are that ridiculous, and yet they’re gut-wrenching.


What is this book’s theme song? My first thought is “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” by The Smiths, because it’s so lovely and so full of yearning—and that’s the way these characters are, whether they want to become human kites or cut off their own thumbs. But lately Morrissey is completely awful every time he opens his mouth—so maybe a time machine could be included, so you can go back and listen to that song without any baggage? Or Kaki King does a great cover, so let’s just use that.


If this book were a movie, who should star in it? Maria Bamford, and she plays every role, like she did in her YouTube series. She knows how to find absurd comedy in the midst of despair the way Tompkins does. She could absolutely play a guy in a tiger mask trying to recruit members for what is most likely a cult.


“He’d offered Molly an analogy, which he thought was fairly clever and compelling: if your dream had been to eat a 32-ounce porterhouse, you wouldn’t feel fulfilled by downing a half-pound of hamburger, even if it was being sold as Salisbury steak. She’d looked unimpressed, shaken her head, and dumped her coffee dregs in the sink before pulling on her shoes and heading off to work at the public library.”


“His words were muffled through the mask, so he sounded like the disembodied voice of a fast food drive-through. He prowled around the porch, swiping at the columns with his hands, growling to display confidence and dominance.”


“Passersby kept passing, still taking no notice: moms and dads hauling bales of diapers, dragging babies and toddlers; teenagers toting two-liter sodas; hunched old couples with canes and sacks of candies. Curtis was unfazed—he knew they’d see him soon enough.”


Katie Burgess lives downwind of a mayonnaise factory in South Carolina. She does improv and is editor in chief of Emrys Journal. Follow her at @cupofstars

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