By Monte Davis

Reviewed by Tim Lieder

Let us take a moment to pause and reflect upon those who try too hard. He may be the guy that dances and knows all the moves but his arms fly too far out; his steps discombobulate him; his friends laugh behind his back. She might be the date that learned all the rules of dating from one of those books, including all the things a man wants to hear. Or the homeless guy rapping at you, because he thinks that you're going to give him money for it and then acts all indignant when you finally tell him to fuck off. How about the good friend who repeats "if there's anything I can do" at you over and over again at a funeral but makes it glaringly obvious that she or he wants to get away. Yes, the words are there; the movements are perfectly choreographed and the sincerity is conspicuously absent.

Into this category, I must include The Machine Man Letters. This little book about a man who likes to bludgeon people with a gumball machine has the makings of a Palahniuk desperation tract or a Vonnegut parody. There's the gimmick. There's the cluelessness of the narrator. There are plenty of jokes. And yet there's nothing much else there.

The main character is crazy in that whacky local character kind of crazy. He becomes a hero when he hits one potential robber with a gumball machine. He ends up in a mental hospital when he hits him again.

The wackiness continues as he falls in love with a semi-colon. The last chapter has him bargaining for a semi-colon with a Nigerian Businessman Scam. Even by a master, these elements wouldn't work. We've seen them before. Obsession over stupid things; gimmicky violence; scams that we know. I liked the purposeful swipe at the Nigerian Businessman Scammers but they do it better in The Onion.

Furthermore, there are too many clichéd phrases: "Pretty please with sugar on top”, "I...I...I was TARZAN" and "I'm not such a bad guy really" (as in he's a horrible person) are just a few examples of the laziness of a writer who couldn't convey his message any other way.

It's not that Monte Davis is a terrible writer. I read the whole thing and I didn't want to strangle him for the crime of lousy prose. This is more than I can say for 90% of the zine-published shorts stalking the world. He writes well and he's trying hard to give us something new and interesting. He's just not very exciting. Nothing sparks and nothing begs the reader to throw it at a friend going "here, you have to read this!" He may have potential, but thus far he doesn't have results.

The Machine Man Letters by Monte Davis. Sam's Dot Publishing tpb, 36pp, $4.85 plus P&P. Available from the publisher or The Genre Mall

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