Title: Randolph's One Bedroom
Author: Andrew Oberg
Genre: Short Stories
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner
Description: When winter stretches on for half the year and people are forced to spend entirely too much time indoors, strange things are bound to happen. Randolph's city of Sornsville, and the local coffee shop he works at, are no exceptions. But through all the irate customers and cryogenically preserved mammals, the drinks that magically disappear just when their order has come up, and the simian clerks that know far too much for their own good, Randolph somehow manages to keep an even keel. Here are twenty linked stories, or twenty episodes if you will, about Randolph and the small, frozen, and thoroughly odd part of the world he inhabits.
The book, for me, wasn't so much about Randolph as it was his state of mind, specifically how he dealt with the everyday oddities of his world. The truth is stranger than fiction, and where Randolph lives, pretty much everything is strange. What I think I loved most about this story collection was that none of the characters were all that out of the ordinary. We are surrounded by the bizarre every single day, and we, like Randolph, have become unaffected by the goings on around us. If we didn't insulate ourselves in this way, we would all be mental by now. When I see some of the things my own neighbours do, I swear my husband and I are the only normal people on the block. That's a stretch, all things considered, but then we think, hey, they probably think we are weird, and they wouldn't be that far off base. That's really the whole point of the book I think: it's an abstract look at society's various psychological tics. Randolph's cursing pet parrot is really the only thing predictable in his entire world, well, that and he never gets any mail.
In our first story, The Neighbour, Randolph confronts the neighbour living overhead who is making a lot of noise while screaming at and berating her ceramic garden gnome. Of course, instead of knocking on the ceiling or going up and knocking on the neighbours door, Randolph decides that climbing the dumpster and looking in the old woman's window is the better option. The funny part is not that the woman is having an altercation with a garden gnome but that she freaks on Randolph for being a peeping Tom. After that, we join Randolph at the local Marmuck's coffee shop where he works as a barista, and if you've ever worked in a retail setting, you know there is no shortage of morons and freaks to accost you all day long. We've disappearing mochas, Pastors who claim the frozen bodies of Neanderthals do not exist. Nope sorry, there is no frozen mummified body in that hole. You are not seeing one because it doesn’t exist. We've also got Randolph's small enclave of dope smoking friends, which is kind of ironic when you think about it. In Randolph’s world, hallucinogenics aren't really necessary. Not in a town where the local grocery store is staffed with monkeys because they don't want minimum wage. All the monkey’s want is good dental benefits.
Yes, we've all run into a few of these characters in our time: the crazy pastor, damning everyone to hell; the cross-dressing coach; the homeless man who isn't homeless, he just doesn't want to pay the man for utilities. How bout that guy at work who spends way to much time on Wikipedia and thinks everything he knows is right and everything everyone else knows is wrong; and lastly, a store manager who seems to have a spastic colon and thinks every situation can be settled amicably with a free drink coupon.
There is a lot of socio political and religious satire here. I loved when the Pastor converted to Dunedonian after reading Frank Herbert's Dune even though he had no concept of what he had read. Then we have the brown-baggers political party, and lastly, we have Dave, the Marmucks' assistant manager who got his job by sleeping with Lucas the manager; Dave, who football tackles everyone anytime the situation presents itself; and Dave, who thinks that being gay makes him special. Yes, Dave is just slightly touched in the head, but he does stop a robbery, so what's not to love?
Some of the stories were rather abstract like Missing Mocha and Message where Randolph overhears two lovers breaking up on his answering machine, but my favourite was the last one titled Fin and it was a fitting end to the book. Poor Randolph, all he wants to do is refill the caramel dispensers, and yet, every five minutes he is interrupted by one crank delivery after another: pizza, then Chinese food, then flowers, then a singing telegram, each one more hilarious than the next, until the candy gram pushes him over the edge and he must run out the door down to the new competitor’s coffee shop for a bit of sanity. So Bravo I say, Bravo. This review would be way too long if I wrote about every single little hilarious subtly.
As for the technical stuff, there were some fiddly editorial issues, mostly with the participle phrases, but nothing too distracting. If I had to compare this book to something, I would say this is pretty close to a written version of Steve Dildarian's The Life and Time's of Tim. This is the stuff cartoon sitcoms are made of. The stories in this collection are subtle, and even though, to some readers, they might seem like “every day in the life of ordinary” on the surface, they actually represent a very abstract view of the world. I liked that, a lot. To me, these stories really put forth the suggestion that we are all a bit off and all a bit off in our own little worlds.