Bukkake clubs. Ghost limbs. Amateur porn. Unrequited love. In his book Don’t Smell the Floss, Matty Byloos doesn’t tackle comfortable or popular topics (except maybe the unrequited love thing … I think people have written about that before). If you have a strong enough stomach to read about mutual masturbation clubs – the LA Jerks, natch – or serial killers or otherwise disturbing subjects, you’ll find yourself deep in a collection of surprisingly wise and well-written stories about relationships, warts and all.
Clocking in at a quick fourteen stories and under 200 pages, Don’t Smell the Floss can easily be devoured in just a few sittings. Matty’s writing is sparse, and the economy of words has the reader tearing breathlessly from line to line, sentence to sentence, story to story. Looking beyond the often bizarre subject matter, you can see that the through-line is, no matter how odd relationships look on the surface, the need to be loved and accepted is at the core of even the strangest ones.
In a story about a man running the camera at a porno shoot, Byloos deftly captures the loneliness and insecurity of everyone on the set – from the cameraman to the producer to the actors. In a story about a man with nearly Bigfoot-level hair and his waif of a girlfriend, you can feel the man’s crushing doubt about how anyone could love him. In another story, a man and his wife struggle to find something to connect over years into their relationship, finally settling on discussing a (fictitious) serial killer. As you can probably guess from these odd scenarios, Byloos is frequently funny – but never with a wink or a smile. Instead, every story is played painfully straight, and the humor comes from something inherent rather than slapstick or screwball.
What impresses me the most about Byloos’ book is the ease with which he switches from voice to voice. The man is a chameleon; every one of the fourteen stories has a distinct character, almost to the point that I double-checked to see if the book was an anthology. Despite some common aspects from story to story – odd-duck main characters without much confidence or luck, the always spare writing and short sentences – Byloos manages a different feel in each story. Some stories are manic, and some are depressive. Some are straight narrative, and some are structured as checklists or outlines or letters. Veering between inspiration from Palahnuik to Vonnegut to something all his own, all fourteen stories attack relationships and loneliness different angles with the same sharp eye.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure what to think when I received this book from Matty. The packaging (a cartoony “thank you” card along with the mushroom-cloud book cover and reviews with words I didn’t understand) didn’t give me much help in deciphering what the book held. A couple hours and just over a dozen gut-wrenching, hilarious and gut-wrenchingly hilarious stories made me glad that I ventured through the tome. Byloos is a unique and talented voice in the world of short stories, and I can’t wait to be sucked into his incredibly bizarre head-space once more.