Montreal-by-way-of-Winnipeg author Jon Paul Fiorentino's ninth book, I'm Not Scared of You or Anything, contains 15 mostly odd, darkly comedic short stories and exploratory texts. His first collection since 2005's Asthmatica, I'm Not Scared of You or Anything is accompanied by more than two dozen illustrations by Montreal artist Maryanna Hardy, whose artwork on the front cover alone is stunning.
The characters in these stories range from losers and loners to Mr. Spock and Teen Wolf to fake martial-arts experts, competitive pillow-fighters and even Fiorentino himself.
Rather than focusing on creating memorable characters, Fiorentino writes them as if the reader already knows them. They could be your next-door neighbour, that guy or girl you went to high school with or "the dude from Iron Maiden." The result allows the reader to immediately connect with the stories.
Playful as the collection is, Fiorentino has a gift for explaining the anxieties, doubts, errors, loves and neediness of humans in a way that is easily readable due to his deadpan humour. It is better to laugh about it than cry, right?
In Pillow Fight, the first-person narrator is the only male competing in an all-women's pillow-fighting league. While hilarious, the underlying theme is scary but true. Think about all of those over-the-top competitive parents in youth sports leagues who'd do anything to have their kids win -- the ones you see in those kids-versus-parents games who take things too far. Now insert pillows instead of balls, bats, or pucks.
The four-page The Problem With Leslie sees Fiorentino return to his character from his series of visual poems The Report Cards of Leslie Mackie, from his 2006 poetry collection Needs Improvement. In it, Leslie has a "facial tic" he was born with that forces him to constantly roll his eyes, getting him into a lot of trouble at elementary school. At first read, the story appears simple and straightforward -- written for a cheap laugh, maybe -- but had Fiorentino used any other disorder, the piece would become a heartbreaking account of bullying in early childhood. It's through Fiorentino's sarcastic delivery and out-of-the-box point of view that these ugly issues become slightly more digestible.
A recurring theme in many of the stories is that of needing to be needed. In the title story, a man is unhealthily hung up on his ex as he spends what could be one of the greatest nights out with one of heavy metal's greatest bassists. In It Seems like Sex is a Weird Thing That Used to Happen to Me Sometimes, loner Steven Marr battles depression and loneliness, and desperately wants to be accepted into cognitive therapy. The Parable of Bryan Dong and Systema Vlad features characters who have bad cases of "bro love," and shows the reader just what people are willing to put up with in order to not be alone.
Fiorentino's main strength, though, is when he writes about himself. When It Got a Little Cold (originally published in the National Post) depicts a conversation between Fiorentino and his daughter Lilly about her birth. First told by Fiorentino and then retold by Lilly, the piece shows the great imagination children have when recreating memories they clearly don't remember. "You looked just like Gollum," writes Fiorentino. "Daddy!" responds Lilly. It's a beautiful father-daughter moment.
I'm Not Scared of You or Anything is a collection for readers bored by more traditional CanLit. It's a book of outcasts, misfits and underdogs written for outcasts, misfits and underdogs.
Unfiltered, Fiorentino deftly writes what some of us may think from time to time, but would never dare say aloud. He really isn't scared of anything.
Adam Petrash is a Winnipeg writer who is scared of heights, things that can crawl on his skin and typos.