Catherine J Gardner, The Sour Aftertaste of Olive Lemon. Bucket O’ Guts Press, 2009. Pp. 23. $6.00 US/$7.50 International.Reviewed by Steven Pirie
This is the ‘first chapbook’ from the wonderfully named Bucket O’ Guts press; a short tale at twenty-three pages start to finish, Gardner's tale is the perfect length to while away a short commute or pass a lunch break. Folded and stapled, it’s unashamed in claiming to be ‘Designed and Printed in a Garage Somewhere in the USA.’ And why shouldn’t it be? The cover artwork by Stephen Blundell is as good as any, and the print within decently sized and legible. I’ve seen supposedly professionally produced works that don’t look half as good.
The publisher’s website states: “We want fiction that cannot be classified or pigeonholed. The only contingency is that your story must leave us all scratching our heads.” So, not being a fan of “bizarro” fiction, which is what I assumed the publishers are hinting at above, I wondered what to expect from The Sour Aftertaste of Olive Lemon. I needn’t have worried. The story is conventional in that it has a beginning, middle and end, and there’s an adherence to logic and cause and effect throughout. The result is a delightfully off-kilter dark fantasy that's a pleasure to read.
In many ways I’m reluctant to summarise the tale. The fact that the story is so short makes it almost impossible not to add spoilers should I do so. I’ll say only that the tale is a journey through Olive Lemon’s dark and troubled mind. Her world is a town populated with colourful neighbourhoods and strange characters; with a mayor, for example, who imposes some odd rules indeed: "The use of ladders was restricted…" and "Puzzles were banned—both cryptic and Jigsaw". But, of course, infringing such restriction is normal behaviour for Olive Lemon.
The story is a good one. Gardner skilfully weaves the narrative along at a sidestep to reality. And she’s careful to provide enough subtle foreshadowing to keep the reader guessing what’s going on yet still lead that reader to a believable conclusion. It makes for a satisfying read indeed.
My only criticism is that The Sour Aftertaste of Olive Lemon was over too quickly; I'd have liked another couple of stories from Gardner thrown in to follow, to beef it out a little. Still, it left me wanting to read more from this author. I’ll watch out for her, and for Bucket O’ Guts press, with interest.
Purchase this title from Bucket O’ Guts Press