Review: ‘Monochromes and Other Stories’ by Matt Bechtel

Monochromes and Other Stories by Matt Bechtel
Haverhill House Publishing (April 2017)
148 pages; $12.95 paperback; $2.99 e-book
Reviewed by Frank Michaels Errington

“Some people just see the world differently. Matt Bechtel is one of those people.”—James A. Moore.

After reading this collection I’d have to agree with that assessment. Matt has an eye for detail and is masterful at shedding a unique light on the otherwise mundane.

This sixteen story collection begins with the title tale “Monochromes,” the story of individuals who see the world in different colors or, in this singular case, in black and white or, better yet, in shades of grey.

A man in a tweed jacket walked out of the men’s room shaking his hands dry; clearly, they were out of paper towels. Half way across the restaurant, he succumbed and dried them on his pants. The waitress counted down her cash drawer in preparation of shift break, muttering numbers to herself as she tapped away at an old adding machine with a roll of printing paper. Two teenage girls gossiped over root beer floats at the counter, giggling madly as they sucked ice cream through straws into their braces-filled mouths.

Such attention to detail.

I’m not going to comment on every story in this debut from Matt, but, for me, some of the highlights include…

“Tele-Serve”—You know it’s only a matter of time until this is the reality for every company you call.

Welcome to Tele-Serve, the state’s Unemployment Benefits payment by telephone service! To use this system in English, please press one. *BOOP*

One of my favorites in this all-too-brief collection is the NECON inspired story “After Hours”:

…three bestselling authors charged by us, knocking me back and into Anna, who was perched on the top rail. One was female. All three were naked.

Of course the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Then there’s the brilliantly disgusting “The Beginning of the End” and the wonderfully imaginative “Before Parachutes”:

“Someday,” he promised the boy, “when I shuffle off this earth, I’m leaving you the ol’ bag o’ bolts.” Then he kissed the plane’s propeller. He always kissed his plane after he insulted it in public, like most men do their wives.

Another of my favorites is “Last Man Standing.”  To the best of my knowledge competitive standing is not a thing. Only from the mind of Matt Bechtel.  

There’s a good deal of heart to be found in “Tears of a Clown” and the charming “A Man Walks Into a Bar.” As I read this collection, I found Matt to be the a master of the “What if?” story.  In this instance, “What if” every joke about walking into a bar all showed up in the same establishment. Why didn’t I think of that?

In “Night of the Living Dead” a man, once dead, has a night to live…

I’m going to drink concoctions that not even a mad scientist would whip up at his home bar. I’ll mix whiskey with milk and toothpaste, vodka and Goldschläger with grape Shasta, lukewarm, day-old coffee with a shot of Everclear.  I’ll rate them by how foul they taste when I puke them back up.  The one that makes me vomit through my eye sockets wins.

Love that description.

Take the truism that a body will completely replace all of its cells every seven years, add a man with an  obsessive-compulsive disorder into the mix and follow to its logical conclusion and you’ll have “A New Man.”

And then there’s the final tale…or should that be tail? “Cozzy’s Question” is about an alley cat faced with the most important question.

“You’ve been asked a very important question, Cozzy—THE question, the most important question ever asked. And the voice won’t stop until you give it an answer.” Oh really? And what question is that? “Do you want the world to end?”

“And that’s it,” he finished for her. “The end of everything, all of it, in the blink of an eye. The Apocalypse, Armageddon, Ragnarok, or whatever you want to call it—the end of all life on earth. Because you say so.”

By far, my favorite tale is this Twilight Zone-esque story which actually made me tear up for a moment.

Monochromes and Other Stories is a richly diverse debut collection from an author to watch. My highest recommendation.

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