Odsburg, by Matt Tompkins

Years and years ago, when I was in high school, my English teacher assigned Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson. After we read the book, we were put into groups and had to create our story series about an imaginary place. None of us was nearly as creative as Matt Tompkins in his story series, Odsburg. Odsburg, Washington is a place full of strange people and strange events. It’s impossible to say if the events make the people strange, or if the people create their own strange events.

Odsburg is written as a collection of documents, ephemera, and stories recorded by the world’s first (and only) socio-anthropo-lingui-lore-ologist, Wallace Jenkins-Ross. Jenkins-Ross attempts to blend into his target environment (there’s evidence that he’s not nearly as good at this as he thinks) to gather stories with a view to publishing them—and thus proving to academia that he is a great scholar dammit.

The stories and documents collected by Jenkins-Ross certainly prove one thing: that Odsburg is a very, very weird place. People occasionally evaporate or lose their skin. There is a club for existential doubters. One man’s dream home turns out to be infested with mountain lions that he legally can’t do anything about and another experiences the sudden resurrection of a beloved uncle. In among the strangeness are some deeply moving and highly original pieces about alcoholism. One of these, told as a series of “a woman walks into a bar” jokes turned into something so heart-wrenching that I started to tear up.

Odsburg is an incredibly imaginative book. Truly, it has some of the most original writing I’ve seen in a long time. My only issue with it is that it’s too short! There are so many hints at the town’s backstory that I wanted to know more. I also wanted to know more about the people who live in this odd town. Are they all the kind of people who put up with the weirdness, like many of the inhabitants of Night Vale? Or are there people who hunt out the town’s secrets? Those questions remain unanswered. Still, Odsburg is a wild, entertaining ride that I would recommend to fans of weird fiction.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.

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