Even though the subtitle for Hoopty Time Machines, a collection of flash fiction by Christopher DeWan, is “fairy tales for grown ups,” I was still surprised at the pure whimsy and mystique some of the stories had.
The way DeWan takes old, worn-out stories and gives them makeovers is very grown-up, to say the least: Ariel never got to live her dream of becoming a singer; Rapunzel lives the life of a businessman’s wife—and hates it. But DeWan has a way of writing the modern fallacies of humans in a package uncannily familiar to the stories we tell our children now. Some of his pieces involve superheroes and princesses, some use ancient mythology, and some exist in the world of science fiction. Hoopty Time Machines is a mixed bag, but a reader who sticks in his hand won’t lose.
Even though this is only DeWan’s second book, his short stories have been published in numerous journals including Gravel, Hobart, and Necessary Fiction. He’s been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. His screenwriting has been recognized by Final Draft, the PAGE Awards, and Slamdance. DeWan knows what he’s doing. Some of the fantasy pieces published in Hoopty Time Machines have been previously published elsewhere as well.
The collection is more than a mash-up of reinvented tropes. Many of the fairytales are truer than the ones we were told as children. The title story, “Hoopty Time Machine,” is about a boy whose dad leaves his family. “I know without being told that he’s never coming back. He’s off somewhere in his hoopty time machine, without me or Mom, trying to correct all his past mistakes” (27). This is how a lot of the stories are shaped, where maybe something isn’t quite right but the narrator pretends or thinks that it is. The speaker in the story knows that the father doesn’t really have a time machine, but he’s willing to believe there’s magic somewhere.
As many, especially postmodern, writers, DeWan embraces the theme of loneliness in his writing. Another story in the book is a journal of the last man on earth, and DeWan wrote in the Afterword that sometimes New York City today feels like that—there are so many people, but somehow each person feels so alone. He knew it was a theme he wanted to tackle, and readers see it resurface in pieces throughout.
All the stories have a strange mesh of magic and existentialism, and many make the reader question perception. It is the way that DeWan makes the reader believe—or at least want to believe—in his worlds that make each small story in the collection successful.
Hoopty Time Machines is playfully postmodern. It is all hits and no misses. There are 45 stories in the book, and each page takes readers on a new adventure. That said, some of the narratives seem too short, and they end before they can really take off. In some ways, however, this could be a positive: each piece reads like a quick fairy tale, as one would assume they’re supposed to, and the reader never has a chance to get bored.
Even the few stories that don’t go on for more than a sentence make strong statements in their limited space. Perhaps the best thing about this book is the way it not only combines old stories with new technologies, but the way it invents fantastical stories from just an idea.
Hoopty Time Machines is worth the read—but be advised; the stories are definitely fairy tales for grown-ups.
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