WE'VE ALL KNOWN a guy like Georgie, the narrator of Arthur Bradford's latest short-story collection, Turtleface and Beyond. He's that friend who always has a good story: Like the time he took LSD with a buddy and his buddy's girlfriend in the woods, and the girlfriend brought along her baby, who ate some poisonous berries, and then they had to get the baby to the hospital, but then the buddy drove the car into a ditch. Georgie may seem like a drifter and an underachiever, but stories like "The LSD and the Baby" show that he's anything but irresponsible. He's the guy taking the baby to the hospital. He knows what's important.
An award-winning writer and Emmy-nominated filmmaker based in Portland, Bradford is a superb storyteller; like Georgie, he knows what's worthy of attention. David Foster Wallace described Bradford's first book, Dogwalker, as "true the way only the very strange is true," and Turtleface retains this sense of truth, even as Bradford winds his plots into increasingly strange outcomes. The stories are so thoroughly amusing that I began to get suspicious, as if I were eating something too utterly delicious—as if good literature must always require great effort. I found myself doing the reviewer's equivalent of looking for a nutrition label. The closer I looked, though, the more impressed I was by Bradford's craft.
The stories don't insist on connectivity. Though Georgie appears throughout Turtleface, he's more interested in the world around him than in navel-gazing, making the book less a linear narrative and more a series of bizarre encounters and episodic adventures, like when Georgie meets a wealthy, straitlaced lawyer who imagines that Georgie might be able to lead him to a more freewheeling way of life (or at least some pot). Georgie agrees to assist, saying, "Standing before me in the fluorescent-lit corridor of the 23rd floor, Jim Tewilliger seemed like a human I could help." Like the mythical Atlas, who Bradford alludes to, Georgie carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, one encounter at a time.
Bradford's writing, in its sincerity and frankness, makes it seem easy to pull off these narrative feats, but it isn't. Turtleface and Beyond, like its antihero, has a self-effacing goodness and integrity that I came to deeply admire. And it's entertaining as hell, too.