Noth­ing scary about collection of sto­ries

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Adam Pe­trash

MON­TREAL-BY-WAY-OF-WIN­NIPEG au­thor Jon Paul Fiorentino’s ninth book, I’m Not Scared of You or Any­thing, con­tains 15 mostly odd, darkly comedic short sto­ries and ex­ploratory texts. His first collection since 2005’s Asth­mat­ica, I’m Not Scared of You or Any­thing is ac­com­pa­nied by more than two dozen il­lus­tra­tions by Mon­treal artist Maryanna Hardy, whose art­work on the front cover alone is stun­ning. The char­ac­ters in these sto­ries range from losers and lon­ers to Mr. Spock and Teen Wolf to fake mar­tial-arts ex­perts, com­pet­i­tive pil­low-fighters and even Fiorentino him­self. Rather than fo­cus­ing on cre­at­ing mem­o­rable char­ac­ters, Fiorentino writes them as if the reader al­ready knows them. They could be your next-door neigh­bour, that guy or girl you went to high school with or “the dude from Iron Maiden.” The re­sult al­lows the reader to im­me­di­ately con­nect with the sto­ries. Play­ful as the collection is, Fiorentino has a gift for ex­plain­ing the anx­i­eties, doubts, er­rors, loves and need­i­ness of hu­mans in a way that is eas­ily read­able due to his dead­pan hu­mour. It is bet­ter to laugh about it than cry, right? In Pil­low Fight, the first-per­son nar­ra­tor is the only male com­pet­ing in an all-women’s pil­low-fight­ing league. While hi­lar­i­ous, the un­der­ly­ing theme is scary but true. Think about all of those over-the-top com­pet­i­tive par­ents in youth sports leagues who’d do any­thing to have their kids win — the ones you see in those kids-ver­sus­par­ents games who take things too far. Now insert pil­lows in­stead of balls, bats, or pucks. The four-page The Prob­lem With Les­lie sees Fiorentino re­turn to his char­ac­ter from his se­ries of vis­ual po­ems The Re­port Cards of Les­lie Mackie, from his 2006 po­etry collection Needs Im­prove­ment. In it, Les­lie has a “fa­cial tic” he was born with that forces him to con­stantly roll his eyes, get­ting him into a lot of trou­ble at el­e­men­tary school. At first read, the story ap­pears sim­ple and straight­for­ward — writ­ten for a cheap laugh, maybe — but had Fiorentino used any other dis­or­der, the piece would be­come a heart­break­ing ac­count of bul­ly­ing in early child­hood. It’s through Fiorentino’s sar­cas­tic de­liv­ery and out-of-the-box point of view that these ugly is­sues be­come slightly more di­gestible. A recurring theme in many of the sto­ries is that of need­ing to be needed. In the ti­tle story, a man is un­healthily hung up on his ex as he spends what could be one of the great­est nights out with one of heavy metal’s great­est bassists. In It Seems like Sex is a Weird Thing That Used to Hap­pen to Me Some­times, loner Steven Marr bat­tles de­pres­sion and lone­li­ness, and des­per­ately wants to be ac­cepted into cog­ni­tive ther­apy. The Para­ble of Bryan Dong and Sys­tema Vlad fea­tures char­ac­ters who have bad cases of “bro love,” and shows the reader just what people are will­ing to put up with in or­der to not be alone. Fiorentino’s main strength, though, is when he writes about him­self. When It Got a Lit­tle Cold (orig­i­nally pub­lished in the Na­tional Post) de­picts a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Fiorentino and his daugh­ter Lilly about her birth. First told by Fiorentino and then re­told by Lilly, the piece shows the great imag­i­na­tion chil­dren have when recre­at­ing mem­o­ries they clearly don’t re­mem­ber. “You looked just like Gol­lum,” writes Fiorentino. “Daddy!” re­sponds Lilly. It’s a beau­ti­ful fa­ther-daugh­ter mo­ment. I’m Not Scared of You or Any­thing is a collection for read­ers bored by more tra­di­tional CanLit. It’s a book of out­casts, mis­fits and un­der­dogs writ­ten for out­casts, mis­fits and un­der­dogs. Un­fil­tered, Fiorentino deftly writes what some of us may think from time to time, but would never dare say aloud. He re­ally isn’t scared of any­thing.

Adam Pe­trash is a Win­nipeg writer who is scared of heights, things that can crawl

on his skin and ty­pos.

I’m Not Scared of You or Any­thing

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