PDX Noir 

13 Stabs at Happiness

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PORTLAND NOVELIST Todd Grimson has been keeping it weird since long before you moved here. A one-time winner of the Oregon Book Award (in 1988, for Within Normal Limits), Grimson's novels and stories explore sex, drugs, vampires, and the nebulous logic of dreams. Out of print for years, his work has recently resurfaced, first with a pair of reissues (his 1996 LA vampire novel Stainless and his 1998 supernatural noir Brand New Cherry Flavor) and now with the story collection Stabs at Happiness.

Stabs collects 13 stories that alternately spark with keen observation, and droop aimlessly. In a story about a white man who strikes up an easy friendship with a black journalist while both are tourists in Morocco in the 1980s, Grimson writes about "all the constraints and subtle complications of pondering one's own racism, or wondering to what degree one was congratulating oneself on one's lack of racism out of a mere refinement of essentially racist preconceptions." It's a smart little insight into a well-meaning white guy's brain, but the story as a whole meanders plotlessly (or more charitably, "dreamily"). There's also a disaffected, blowup-doll quality to many of the book's sex scenes, though a story in which sheltered starlet Jean Harlow goes on an incognito sex-bender is one of the book's best: It's dense and imaginative, full of details that evoke Prohibition-era San Francisco, and Grimson infuses Harlow's recklessness and desire with a tense, trainwreck momentum.

Grimson himself won't be able to attend Friday's reading—severe MS keeps him frequently homebound—but local actors, artists, and poets will share stories from the collection.

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