It's a book filled with unlikely—at times indescribable—occurrences: A talking cat plots to kill his adopted caretaker's wife. A female peeping tom witnesses her teenage neighbor gradually transform from a boy to a girl. A fictionalized Lenny Bruce has sex with a bum, and then injects his own ejaculate back into his body with a mammoth syringe.
Creamy Bullets, the new collection of short stories by Future Tense publisher and occasional Mercury contributor Kevin Sampsell, pairs bizarre eroticism with Raymond Carver minimalism; flights of fancy are described in terse, matter-of-fact tones, and the grim sobriety of the real world is undermined by the unreliable perceptions of its inhabitants. Some of the stories are merely head scratching, particularly the brief, surreal snapshots in the book's opening third, subtitled "Small," most of which are less than a page long. However, Sampsell's fertile imagination is given room to stretch out in the "Medium" and "Large" sections, for stories that are strange, funny, and brimming with humanity. The reader frequently and happily loses footing when banal events turn into flat-out dreamscapes, and Sampsell manages to do this without needlessly amping the volume of his calm, unadorned prose.
It's not all weird: Some of the collection's best stories are relatively clear headed, including "Reunion," in which the narrator finds himself at a family gathering surrounded by relatives he scarcely knows, except for his wheelchair-bound father, whom he dreams of pushing into the river. But Bullets is at its most memorable in stories like "Bubbles," which is nearly poetic in its sparseness: "She chews slowly, her lovely lips curling, her jaw moving in a smooth little dance. Her bubble comes out confidently, without fear. It grows bigger like a puff of smoke." Sampsell crafts his stories in much the same way: sweetly, almost frivolously, expanding breath by breath, always assuredly maintaining the delicate balance between a perfectly rounded world in miniature and a loud, messy pop.
And, of course, Sampsell can't resist a deliciously odd erotic finish to the scene: "She stares into my eyes. 'What next?' I ask her. 'Bubble fight,' she says. We stand close without touching and press our gum together."