By: J.B. Bergstad
Publisher: Woodside Publishing Group
Publication Date: April 2009
Reviewed by: Bill Alberts
Review Date: December 15, 2009
I admit that I was a bit unsure of this book when it came across my desk for review. Given its unusual title ("Screwing the Pooch" is slang for making a terrible mistake/to commit a serious error), I didn't know what to expect. I am happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised with seven short stories, each one lingering with me well after I finished reading the book. And yes, the title of this book is used in the last story, in a very appropriate manner.
Screwing The Pooch opens with the story of Milton Sonntag, a seven-year-old who has had more than his share of bloody noses, thanks to Philip Tanner, the neighborhood bully. At first glance, "Milton's Pickle" appears to be a simple story of bullying, but the author, who skillfully builds characters a reader can relate to, and care about, has other ideas. Milton extracts his revenge at the end of this tale in an unexpected and gut-wrenching way.
My favorite story in this collection was "The Puppy Murders." Again, Bergstad tells the tale of young boys, carefully weaving their lives around the mundane events on a quiet street. Eleven-year-old Jim has moved to a new neighborhood and eventually ventures outside to meet his neighbors. Most of the story centers around Jim's developing friendships. The author's descriptive writing brings the reader along as the group of kids, not necessarily all friends, are hanging out and restless. Enter Jim who tries different things to fit in, including setting a broom on fire. When Jim is asked to help Larry's mother end an ill puppy's misery, Jim is unwilling at first to assist. Sensing the mother's desperation, and his desire to do the right thing, Jim soon finds himself doing something he'll be tortured by for the rest of his life. In essence, two lives are destroyed that fateful day. At first this story truly upset me, but as I reflected on it over several days, I began to see the anguish that Jim was subjected to and how it changed the course of his life.
"BearClaw at the CoffeeCaker," "Dear Daniel," and "Hank Straker, SA" don't have any deep, convoluted plots, rather, they are about individuals who have struggled with various hardships. How they react to adversity, as well as how they treat those around them, are what the stories focus on. The author effectively conveys the characters turmoil and inner demons and keeps the reader glued to the page.
Quill says: The character-driven stories within the pages of Screwing The Pooch are haunting and poignant.
For more information on Screwing The Pooch, please visit the author's website at: JBBergstad.com