Unflinchingly Honest Commentary: On J. Bradley’s ‘Neil and Other Stories’

Bradley’s story collection delves into family struggles and seeks to show us the world in its entirety.

J. Bradley
Short Stories | 191 Pages | Reviewed: PDF ARC
978–0996764674 | First Edition | $15.00
Whiskey Tit | New York City | BUY HERE

Image: Whiskey Tit.

J. Bradley has returned with as much sagacity as ever as he unabashedly shines his spotlight on parenting, shootings, suicide, and God. The work is a series of juxtapositions that seeks to show us the world in its entirety: Both haunting and alive. Nostalgic and new. Realist and surrealist.

In “Cerulean,” a child shaves his dyed hair when the color bleeds onto his skin. In “American Zoology,” we are given a collection of short paragraphs that challenges the politics of gun violence. In one of the flash paragraphs, an alligator wields a gun and demands either the arm or head of a young girl. This is a ludicrous situation, and asks us to consider how ridiculous our own policies are on weapon control. Although whimsical prose on the surface, we come face to face with our own violent beliefs when confronted with these idiosyncratic short sentences.

“The first thing Mary saw when she came to was an alligator tail holding a gun. […] The alligator fired at her feet […]”

It is in the second of three parts, “Neil: A Novella-in-Flash,” that the collection truly comes into its own. Through fugitive glimpses into his family life, we see a man struggle on the precipice of becoming his father. For those anguished by the thought of becoming those who raised us, this is a powerful reminder. And for those not similarly afflicted, we feel the ache of empathy — a testament to good writing. It is an accomplished collection that delves into family struggles that have been, are, and will be prevalent in many people’s lives as we try to balance the authority of our parents with the disciplining of our own children. It shows the thin line between becoming what we grew up with and weaving our own, equally threatening, path.

“It’s genetic, I’ll say, like my father, and his father before, and his father before, and his father before.”
(from “Fleet Street”)

Bradley has compiled a collection of short fiction that promises to take us through a labyrinth of understanding. You will leave feeling like you empathize with the plights of your father, your mother, your children, and most importantly — yourself — more. It will show you their journeys, and you will grasp the complexity of your own life more by seeing the experiences of those who have molded you.

NICOLE DAVENPORT is currently studying BSc Psychology and hopes to go on to postgraduate education. In her spare time, she reads excessively, paints, and cares for her many pets.