A Flash of Something Interesting
“Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives”
by Brad Watson
W. W. Norton & Company
New York, 2010
Short. Powerful. Enigmatic. These are words that could readily describe Brad Watson’s collection of short stories, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives. Having previously published a finalist for the National Book Award, The Heaven of Mercury, and Sue Kaufman Award winning Last Days of the Dog-Men, there is no doubt that Watson is a heavyweight in short and flash-fiction. This latest piece sees shorts such as “Fallen Nellie,” concerning a woman who’s corpse was found in the wilderness, “Carl’s Outside,” focusing on a father attempting to teach his son—a young boy growing up before his very eyes—how to ride a bicycle, and “Ordinary Monsters,” a collection of flash pieces including a couple in the midst of a plane crashing to zombies who find themselves perpetually sexually aroused. (Stiff. Get it?)
Watson tends to orbit certain themes in his stories, such as young boys with brothers, fathers in disconcerted marriages with emotionally distant sons, and lower class/absolute poverty generally anchored in the South. His stories are typically set in the past—typically decades in the past—and imply a sense of reflection from the narrator on the way things were “before.” Watson also does not shy away from human sexuality, including passages such as “I saw her little patch of frazzly hair and sex like a busted lip[…],” and “She took off her brassiere. My God. Her little breasts were beautiful: small, a little heavy on the bottom, sloping down then up to what looked to be a pair of hard, erect, hazelnut nipples,” (90, 201). Watson rarely fails to deliver abrupt, contemplative endings to his stories, leaving the reader attached to the realistic and sometimes surreal worlds he has created in merely a few pages.
“Noon” was especially stunning, in both its topic and its symbolism. “Are You Mr. Lonelee?” and “The Misses Moses” were also well crafted. One thing that I have noticed, however, is that while Watson will write about both sexes in third person limited, the stories that contain a first person narrator are all from a male perspective. I think that this may be a fear or a habit that Watson will have to overcome, because while some stories such as “Noon” were good, they could have been made more powerful by use of first person. And while there were queues to the settings that some of the stories were set in, I think that they could have been made stronger in imagery by providing more concrete information about the places and eras that they were set in. Overall, however, it is clear to see how Watson became the recipient of several awards, based on his writings in Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives. Whether a fan of his work or not, Watson is an author to watch.