Reviews, Vol. 3.1, March 2009
Sunnyoutside, Jan. 2009
Paperback, 28 pp., $8
Review by Cynthia Reeser
Lawrence Millman, mycologist and author of recent publications such as Last Places and A Kayak Full of Ghosts, has received praise from Annie Dillard for his most recent work from Sunnyoutside, Going Home: A Horror Story. This petite book is a handsomely-bound, 25-page delight that anyone with an overbearing mother or dysfunctional family will appreciate.
Peter is what one could call an unwitting protagonist. A trip home to visit his fickle, aging mother results in circumstances that are simultaneously hilarious and horrifying. The maddening hilarity begins, for him, the instant he steps off the plane to greet his mother in the airport:
“Good to see you, Peter,” his mother said, giving him a kiss. “But you’ve got some dirt on your cheek. You’re nearly forty years old, you know. Isn’t it time you learned to wash?”
“That’s not dirt, Mom,” he grinned. “It’s a melanoma that just happens to be dirt-colored.”
“Well, if it really is a melanoma, you should have gotten a doctor to cut it off before you came home. Or have you left it there just to upset me?”
Later, his mother realizes, “That’s not cancer, dear. It’s chicken cacciatore.” What a relief.
Millman narrates his tale in wry, observant prose. His mother’s two-story ranch bungalow on Pleasant Lane is not merely foreboding; under Millman’s watch, it is infused with a personality all its own, so that it becomes empowered to “glare at him with undisguised hostility.” The plot thickens when Peter’s mother insists on showing him some of her most recent upgrades to the home, which include a retrofitting of his room which has essentially restored it to the abode of his boyhood:
He entered the room somewhat gingerly, not unlike a man walking the plank. And all at once he seemed to be entering a museum dedicated to his own past. There was his first toy truck. His old toy soldiers. A pair of miniature U.S. Keds beside the bed. On his dresser were the Dick and Jane books, complete, along with a dog-eared copy of Goodnight Moon.
Millman, in a very short space, conveys all the nuances of character and scene that make his story feel familiar, even for a reader who cannot relate to the situation. The end holds a hilarious, lovely and horrifying surprise that may cause a reaction somewhere between a wince and a chuckle. Going Home is a memorable little tale not soon to be forgotten.