Welcome to the small town of Odsburg, Wash., where mountain lions live in basements, a "strange skinless guy" hangs out in the town square, and a couple is so hungry they eat themselves, literally, out of house and home. Odsburg by Matt Tompkins (Souvenirs: And Other Stories), is narrated by the only "socio-anthropo-lingui-lore-ologist" in existence, Wallace Jenkins-Ross. The novel, humorous and heartbreaking, serves as Wallace's notebook of "local lore, personal histories, and primary documents, with an emphasis on otherwise overlooked marginalia." Luckily for him, and the reader, Odsburg is rife with interesting residents and highly unusual marginalia.
In transcripts of field recordings, torn paper, candy wrappers and letters found in books, the surreal landscape of Odsburg takes shape and its inhabitants become whole. Ben Jemison sees people and objects as if they're burning, and believes that this isn't a disability but a metamorphosis. A flyer advertises the monthly meeting of the "Existential Doubters' Nondenominational Discussion Hour," whose subgroup the "Existentialists In-Dependence Recovery and Support Group" distributes a leaflet saying, in part, "I reach out for whatever stable surfaces might help to keep me upright and moving forward in a world... where everything seems so crumbly and chimeric and questionable."
Wallace tells schoolchildren that his discipline exists because of "the basic human need to tell our stories.... We are the storytelling species." Odsburg, like Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor's little desert town of Night Vale, shows through philosophical musing and existential uncertainty the shared humanity and essential goodness of disparate people. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.