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Darrin Doyle

Darrin Doyle is the author of the novels­­Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet: A Love Story ­(LSU Press) and ­­The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo ­(St. Martin’s Griffin).­­ He teaches at Central Michigan University.

Blurbs

“The human body, logic, and language are all rent apart and remade dazzlingly anew in these fourteen stories. With the droll fabulism of Nikolai Gogol and the moral heft of Shirley Jackson, Doyle’s characters face problems both surreal and all-too-real...Fantastical yet close to the bone, these stories are both wounding and wondrous.”

– Monica McFawn, author of Bright Shards of Someplace Else, winner of the Flannery O’ Connor Award

“Doyle's stories are lamentations, demented fairy tales, and quests for enlightenment in which the author explores bodily dysfunction and ungainly lust while familial love hums in the background. In the manner of George Saunders, Doyle uses his smart, light language to lift readers above the darkness of shame and humiliation that brings so many of his characters to their knees.”

– Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of Once Upon a River and American Salvage, finalist for the National Book Award

“Darrin Doyle’s a mad scientist who has stitched together a hauntingly beautiful collection from tattered body parts and a strange, ragged heart. It is only after you’ve been defibrillated by the stories in The Dark Will End the Dark that you realize you’ve been dozing through the days. Doyle’s got his fingers on the pulse of our brave new American psyche and his writing blazes electric.”

– Jason Ockert, author of Wasp Box and Neighbors of Nothing

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The Dark Will End The Dark

Other people are necessary, but they are also hell to put up with.

03/27/15

When I graduated, I couldn’t wait to climb onto a greyhound bus and put all that college stuff behind me. I debarked in a small Midwestern town and was roomed with a guy who was three weeks away from sentencing for holding up a convenience store. I went to the local music club by myself to see the bands and to be around the people that I was sure I was meant to belong to. I ate the same limp, greasy pizza the club bought for the bands, and sometimes I even sat at the table with them as we ate it. I had arrived at the most authentic version of myself. But of course, there were problems: employment was one of them. I worked as a dishwasher in college, when no shame accrued to that position. But after college, all I could find to do for money was to wash more dishes. And my emotional life sucked: I’d early on fallen hard for a girl whose bipolar disorder kept pushing me into the friend zone. A year after graduation, I was living the post-collegiate life I thought I wanted. Did I learn anything? It’s hard to know; those five years marked me, for sure, but I can’t say they improved me.

The characters in Darrin Doyle’s stories mostly inhabit the same emotional terrain, order olive patties from the same drive-thru burger joints, and sometimes even drink in the same bar, the Green Top, where I went with some friends to celebrate getting back a clean HIV test report. The Green Top is a funny place—a bar a couple doors down from the club and pizza place, it kept a coterie of townies comfortably numb but probably would’ve never survived if slumming alternative kids didn’t keep turning up there. But along the way, a rudimentary kind of role reversal happened: I remember looking around and thinking, this is what my life is like now, and it wasn’t the kind of feeling you left behind when you walked out the door and back onto the street. If you belonged at the Green Top, it means you brought it with you when you left.

In one of the longer stories in this collection, “Happy Turkey Day,” two of Doyle’s characters face a similar moment of recognition at the Green Top. Jonathan Turkey, high school basketball star and scion to a dwindling fortune and his classmate and lower rung dweller Claude Peuptic (pronounced, unfortunately, Poopdick) are drawn to the Green Top to make a relational swap: Turkey will give some of his prestige and ease in the world to Poopdick in exchange for some recognition that Turkey, too, has struggled, some.

This need for other people to know who you are, to be there beside you, animates almost all the stories in this collection. So, in “The Hiccup King,” the protagonist concedes, “He longed for a comrade. He wanted a companion for his unremarkable misery." And in the story “Barney Hester,” this need for a companion takes a predictably sad formulation: “three is a good number. In a group of three, you’re always next to someone."

In Doyle’s funny and disturbing stories, these anxious, all-important connections, hard to admit even when you’re drunk and loquacious, have a way of going wrong. Other people are necessary, but they are also hell to put up with. And so in “Happy Turkey Day,” this moment of incipient drunken bliss and bonhomie leads inevitably to shots fired and unlikely heroic sacrifice, as Poopdick steps in front of a shotgun blast meant for Jonathan. It’s not the death that should concern us, Doyle suggests, but the muck Peuptic crawled through on his way there, the way it didn’t redeem him.

It’s this same muck, this muddy bog beaten down by history and brainless struggle borne of apathy and momentum where most of Doyle’s characters live. So in another long story here, “Ha-Ha Shirt,” three man-children circle the drain of their long friendship, sexually abusing one another and emotionally abusing everyone they else, carrying with them a cloud of toxic emotional fallout. These same guys, they rented a house across the street from where I lived: the lawn was stripped of most of its green; glass forties rested in crook of a tree, and a sex doll held herself up on the front railing. They’d get loud, sometimes, but if you called the police, they didn’t come because guys like Shirt, Ha-Ha, and the narrator take care of themselves, if you just leave them to it. These are not beautiful losers, just losers.

The Dark Will End the Dark alternates between these longer, mostly realistic if cringe-comic stories and short, punctuated bursts of irreality, stories usually titled after body parts, like “Foot,” “Penis,” and “Mouth.” So, in “Foot,” a mommy, trying to find the limit of what it would take to satiate her infant, cuts off her own foot as a chew toy. When the baby isn’t satisfied, the daddy retaliates, taking off baby’s foot, which the mommy discovers isn’t quite what she wanted, either. In another body-horrifying flash, “Face,” a normcore father looks in the mirror to discover his features have slipped out of place, so his eye is embedded in his cheek, his nose and mouth have reversed positions. At first, he wonders if his family will recognize him, but then decides, this is the new normal, and proceeds to get on with it. In the longer stories, Doyle is patient enough to let the characters to do themselves in. The shorter stories, though, are characterized by swifter comeuppances. Characters don’t just have names that are more like job titles or org chart designations, but the stories themselves end so quickly, it’s like Doyle has pulled the trigger so we won’t need to see where it goes next. I like that decisiveness, the cruel shape that Doyle forces onto these stories. If only I’d had Doyle scripting my life. I might have reached a crisis point and moved out of that Midwestern purgatory sooner and saved myself a few years.

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