Alex Burrett wants to take you by the shoulders and turn you around. In ‘The Expanding House’, one of the stories in My Goat Ate Its Own Legs, an elderly widower is dropped off at his house. He is to be alone in it for the first time.
He grapples with the front door keys; sensing that everyday routines are going
to get a lot harder. It’s weird to enter a house with a “ghost” in it. Have you ever done it? There’s a person missing from your home now and they are not coming back. I’ve been through this. I know how strange it feels.
Here’s where Burrett is turning you around. Old guy walks into his house…knows it inside-out…only now he notices that there’s an extra door in the hallway that’s never been there before. There’s no one around to help him anymore. What does the old guy do?
There are 31 stories in this collection. I can’t say that I was in love with all of them. But there were enough favorites for me to want to reread the whole book. They are like compulsively remembered fairy tales or horror films that move into your brain. You don’t forget about Hansel and Gretel once you’ve been told about them.
Here’s another…again about family loss and dislocation. ‘Immortal’ takes place out in the sticks…sorry…it’s the city slicker in me talking. The first person narrator lives in a former flourishing village that is now virtually deserted. The house that his family lives in is the only one in the former hamlet that’s still standing. All the others are ruined hulks hurtling towards oblivion.
But one of those hulks still has a secret resident. A time-warped creature that was once a family man and owned that house. He just stayed in the ruin of “home”, renounced all human feelings and became the title character. “…because when all his friends and family had died , all he had left was where he was from.”
I don’t want to suggest that all the stories in Goat engage the reader directly in this level of mourning. Many of Burrett’s stories glitter with a wickedly harsh brilliance as if you’ve discovered a tree in your garden that blossoming with six inch razor blades.
There’s the story about why you might want to participate in cannibalism. The story about the guy who so lusted after his girlfriend that they became physically joined in some sort of weird genetic mutation…the kid whose best friend was a stone…the woman who went steady with Death…preferring him to all her former boyfriends.
And then there’s that goat; making its uncertain peace with life…going on somehow despite the odds. Alex Burrett interests me because he is a softie with a heart of steel. It’s the complexity of his emotions that gets to me. Here is a writer who has taken his life’s history and turned it into magic.