It’s a rare thing to find yourself smiling from a piece of writing. Not smiling because the piece is ha-ha funny, but because you’re making a connection with a writer. It’s the feeling when the writer is trying to tap into an impulse or an idea within the collective consciousness, but in a way others have never done before. And you’re there to watch him nail it home with staggering accuracy. Almost as if the writer puts his arm around you, leads you to a quiet corner of a crowded room and shows you a hidden design in the wallpaper that says everyone in this room is a talking bunny. For this reason, you will find yourself smiling at every piece in William Walsh’s Pathologies.
It’s also pleasing to see a writer having fun and inviting the audience to do the same. Usually when a writer comes out the other side of writing a novel or short story collection, the scars and bruises from wrestling with language are visible in between the lines on the page. The pieces in Pathologies feel like effortless one-offs, written to maintain sanity in between wrestling sessions. However, I’ve usually been wrong in this assumption in the past. I read Mystic River some years ago and what read and felt like an effortless voice was the result of one punched-out computer screen and a near nervous breakdown.
These pieces are origin stories presented in a different way. Walsh slices his characters thin, then chooses which slice will show you their eventual trajectory. In the approx. 150 word piece “So Much Love in the Room,” a failing couple has a baby to save their marriage, in order to combat their hatred of failure. “The Wrong Barthelme,” the writers Don B. and Frederick are shown in an almost Muppet-babies form, toddlers with Abe Lincoln beards and pipes, Frederick being punished for destroying a toy train set up by not being able to write while the other Barthelme’s type away. The piece “Diagnosis: Mustache” is simply the outgoing answering machine message for the TV show Diagnosis: Murder, explaining why Dick Van Dyke will not shave his new mustache not for you, not for anybody.
Not only is Pathologies refreshing in the regard that we get to see a talented writer having fun on the page, but it’s also inspiring. Writing doesn’t have to be this endeavor that eats away at your soul with every story you complete, with every novel you drag across the finish line. There’s nothing saying you can’t make a connection with a reader while still enjoying the hell out of the process. Well done, William.