`Surf Guru` a portmanteau of stories

Updated: Jul 15, 2010, 12:34 PM IST

London: Doug Dorst`s first collection of short stories presents a mixed bag. While many of the tales hit their mark, others seem to meander without reaching their destination and too infrequently leave the reader with the feeling that the main characters are changed by the story`s events.

First the good: Dorst seems to be at his best when depicting losers. He appears to have a special compassion for the drunken misfits depicted in the related stories ‘Vikings’ and ‘What Is Mine Will Know My Face.’

In these, Dorst follows a pair of burnout friends from their go-nowhere lives in suburbia to the Southwestern desert, where they are on the run from the law for reasons that could have been avoided if they were a little more responsible. The saving grace of these characters is their unwavering loyalty to each other. That makes them sympathetic, even though you probably wouldn`t want to spend much time in the company of either.

Additionally, Dorst surrounds them with a coterie of nuanced minor characters, as well as admirably rendered settings that seem to reflect their desolation. These make this pair of stories one of the book`s highlights.

Dorst ramps up the intensity with ‘La Fiesta de San Humberto el Menor’ and ‘The Monkeys Howl, the Hagfish Feast.’ These read like a couple of tropical fever dreams, with a hint of fantasy bordering on the surreal, and are among the most haunting in the collection.

Unfortunately, many of the remaining tales are misfires, as Dorst experiments with unconventional story structures that don`t work. Too often the result comes off as pretentious, as it does in ‘Little Reptiles’ and the tedious ‘Splitters.’ Other times, the story appears to be trying to say more than it actually does, as with ‘Jumping Jacks’ and ‘The Candidate in Bloom.’

‘The Surf Guru’ has rewards for readers willing to seek them out, but the overall experience may frustrate those who expect satisfaction on every page.

Bureau Report