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Going to the dogs 

Arthur Bradford shows what became of that bizarre kid in the back of the class in his debut short story collection, Dogwalker, recently published in paperback by Vintage.

Each of 14 stories from this O. Henry Award-winning writer boasts a cast of freaks and outcasts with plots that are out there -- but in a strangely endearing way. The constant throughout is how Bradford allows sentiment to outweigh the bizarre. That's saying a lot when one starts plowing into these plots. From cat-faced circus freaks to the woman who swallows glowing worms and lets them incubate in her stomach, Bradford's writing is vaguely reminiscent of William Burroughs and David Foster Wallace, by way of Tom Waits. Each offering in Dogwalker is told from the first person, primarily nameless male narrators, and often employs a three-legged dog to help move the story along.

The strongest and by far oddest story, "Dogs," explores a love affair between a man and his girlfriend's dog that eventually evolves into a strange group of interspecies dog people. Rather than simply exploiting these freakish characters, Bradford devotes a great deal of compassion to them.

In "Mollusks," two dim-witted friends scavenge through a field of trashed cars where they find a massive slug in a glove compartment. Back home they are confronted by the screams from one of their wives, who wants the slug out of the house. "Disgusting does not mean undesirable" is the husband's retort, an apt phrase for some of the odder stories that make up Dogwalker.

Like Chuck Palahniuk, Bradford's themes are entirely unrealistic, while still coming across unforced. Parts tender and bizarre, his writing is unassuming and the narratives are told in an almost child-like manner. Bradford has managed to tap into that almost limitless imagination the rest of us turned off after leaving elementary school. -- John Moore


You really can't judge a book by its title, but if we did, we'd be captivated by two upcoming book-signings at the Ansley Mall Chapter 11 Bookstore. First, Alexandra Fuller signs Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight (March 20), the tale of her childhood in southern and central Africa. Then, on March 25, Virginia Holman signs Rescuing Patty Hearst: Memories from a Decade Gone Mad, a look at the author's mother and her unstable mental health during the 1970s. If either event is half as titillating as the book title, get ready. Both events begin at 7 p.m. 404-872-7986. www.chapter11books.com.


Shelf Space is a weekly column on books and Atlanta's literary scene.

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