Christopher Owens 🔖 The humble chapbook.


A format that may not enjoy the mass popularity that it once did but when the right one comes along, it has more to say than most 1000 page epics.

And I’m pleased to include Carson Pytell’s Willoughby, New York in this category.

Only 30 pages long, it acts as a collection of short stories involving an unnamed character looking back on his youth now that he is a parent himself. And what a traumatic time it was, with ICU visits, disillusioned parents, no good friends and humiliating attempts at sexual relations. All of this in spite of his own attempts to keep his head down as he realises early on that “All there was to life was to ignore living. That way you're never hurt, proud, hated or loved.”

These tales are told with a sepia tinted perspective which makes the action much starker whenever it occurs. By doing this, the reader understands how suffocating nostalgia can be, so much so that it blinds our eyes to the reality of the times and our own actions as well.

Take the story ‘High on the Mountain’ as an example. While the narrator’s friends are out doing a drug run in a nearby hamlet, the narrator encounters a local hick who invites him into his abode, where the façade is decked out with iron crosses and swastikas. It’s very awkward, as you can imagine:

I asked him some question then that I don't remember the exact phrasing of, just something I thought might give me an answer as to why the outside of this little place looked so ugly and why the inside was just like anyone's grandparents' home. He said something about how he gets to get away with it out here, that he actually works in Albany, believe it or not. I didn't ask anything else, but he kept answering. He called me boy, used the Lord's name in vain, and said that even if I was a Kike or a Nigger or anything else like that he'd still have tossed some bread at me. Those were the words he used, tossed some bread at me.

Here, Pytell takes a scenario that would normally be a spirited adventure where the young hero manages to outrun the evil cave dweller on his way to completing his quest and turns it into an uncomfortable tale of two people with vastly differing views and life experiences interacting through an act that could be viewed as one with the best intentions, or one designed to manipulate and terrify. By doing so, it becomes incredibly vivid and fraught with tension, making a mockery out of childhood hi-jinks.

Get onto this now.

Carson Pytell, 2023, Willoughby, New York. Bottlecap Press.

🕮 Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.

Willoughby, New York

Christopher Owens 🔖 The humble chapbook.


A format that may not enjoy the mass popularity that it once did but when the right one comes along, it has more to say than most 1000 page epics.

And I’m pleased to include Carson Pytell’s Willoughby, New York in this category.

Only 30 pages long, it acts as a collection of short stories involving an unnamed character looking back on his youth now that he is a parent himself. And what a traumatic time it was, with ICU visits, disillusioned parents, no good friends and humiliating attempts at sexual relations. All of this in spite of his own attempts to keep his head down as he realises early on that “All there was to life was to ignore living. That way you're never hurt, proud, hated or loved.”

These tales are told with a sepia tinted perspective which makes the action much starker whenever it occurs. By doing this, the reader understands how suffocating nostalgia can be, so much so that it blinds our eyes to the reality of the times and our own actions as well.

Take the story ‘High on the Mountain’ as an example. While the narrator’s friends are out doing a drug run in a nearby hamlet, the narrator encounters a local hick who invites him into his abode, where the façade is decked out with iron crosses and swastikas. It’s very awkward, as you can imagine:

I asked him some question then that I don't remember the exact phrasing of, just something I thought might give me an answer as to why the outside of this little place looked so ugly and why the inside was just like anyone's grandparents' home. He said something about how he gets to get away with it out here, that he actually works in Albany, believe it or not. I didn't ask anything else, but he kept answering. He called me boy, used the Lord's name in vain, and said that even if I was a Kike or a Nigger or anything else like that he'd still have tossed some bread at me. Those were the words he used, tossed some bread at me.

Here, Pytell takes a scenario that would normally be a spirited adventure where the young hero manages to outrun the evil cave dweller on his way to completing his quest and turns it into an uncomfortable tale of two people with vastly differing views and life experiences interacting through an act that could be viewed as one with the best intentions, or one designed to manipulate and terrify. By doing so, it becomes incredibly vivid and fraught with tension, making a mockery out of childhood hi-jinks.

Get onto this now.

Carson Pytell, 2023, Willoughby, New York. Bottlecap Press.

🕮 Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.

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