A review that originally appeared in The Dream Zone #12 back in 2002:-
FOR THE BIRDS by Joseph Farley – Reviewed by Peter Tennant
This neatly produced volume from Cynic Press contains fifteen stories by American writer Joseph Farley, and is very much a book of two halves. The first seven pieces have a “found art” quality to them, where context defines identity, with little to justify their status as stories other than inclusion in a volume of the same. ‘House Painting’ is, more or less, a description of a family painting a house, ‘Waiting For The T’Bus’ is about somebody waiting for a bus and ‘A Conversation With Alvin’ is… You get the idea. Occasionally, as with ‘Bicycle Ride’, the most developed of these, we get the hint of something much darker going on in the background, but it never becomes more than supposition. What we have here are incidents presented as stories, not particularly well written or memorably characterised, with a few moments of humour as the only saving grace. They create an air of anticipation, but never deliver on the promise. Then Farley abandons naturalism and gets his act together, almost as if making a conscious decision to reward the reader for persevering through this trial by tedium, and the next eight stories are sheer delight, the humour coming to the fore and linked with bizarre imagery and compelling whimsy. As an example, the mock ironic ‘Promised Land’ has the Israelites emerging from the wilderness and finding that the land of milk and honey isn’t all it was cracked up to be, a debacle testing Moses’ spin doctory to breaking point. ‘The Big Z’ deftly applies the fine art of pyramid selling to religion, while ‘The Great Man Of The People And His Son’, a canny study of emotional overkill, has the world quite literally flooded by an absurd outpouring of public grief in the wake of the Great Man’s demise. ‘Beware The Storm Troopers’ will probably strike a chord in the heart of many a small press editor, as members of an indifferent public are rounded up by armed men and marched off to attend poetry reading (ve have ways to make you listen!). The collection ends with ‘Invertebrate In The Making’, in which the narrator’s backbone is removed so that he can be just like all the rest of us. The metaphor’s strong, but picking too hard at the implications is probably not good for the ego. Short and pithy, these stories seize on everyday absurdities and magnify them to telling effect. They show that Farley is a comedy writer to be reckoned with. It’s just a pity about the first half of the book.