While I did not like it as much as I liked his most recent collection, Sweet Nothing, Richard Lange’s debut collection Dead Boys is quite a revelation for those who are just being introduced to a writer who has been described as the heir apparent to writers as varied as Raymond Carver and Jim Thompson. He perfectly melds each of those writer’s most famous attributes into a short form of storytelling that is both intimate, swift and brutal but with a keen sense of what is good in all of us and what makes us sally forth during tough times. It’s subject matter also reminded me of the debut collections of writers like Donald Ray Pollock and Frank Bill, but while those collections focus on the swift and brutal nature of their settings and characters, these stories take a bit longer to gestate in the reader’s mind and we don’t realize how much they will linger until the echo so their final lines. They take place mainly around the Los Angles area, but instead of the glitz and glamour that city is associated with, Lange’s stories focus on the downtrodden and slightly seedy areas that are juts down the road. I found the varied settings very refreshing here, which exhibit Lange’s understanding of many different walks of life, and how most times, whether they are a borderline criminal or someone desperately trying to get by, their desires are often one in the same. As with all of my short story reviews, I will pick out my favorites and tell you why I liked them so much. I’ve come to figure out that short story collections are only as good as their first story, really their first chance to make a good impression, and this one does, with the story “Fuzzyland” about a man who visits his sister, who has juts been raped, and wrestles with feelings for wanting a child with his wife through his niece. Like most stories here, the main character is brooding, pseudo-tough guy who is uncomfortable with his feelings and takes whatever life dishes out and by the end, has shed his thick outer layer and revealed his true self, whether willingly or unwillingly, and this story is a good example of that. While this collection is big and big-hearted, some of the smaller stories really shined as well, like “Culver City”, about a man whose wife finds damning photos at a celebrity house party and uses them for blackmail. That interesting concept however, becomes a great metaphor for the guy’s feelings about his doomed marriage. If I had to pick my favorite, it would be “Bank of America” which turns the bank-robbing story on its head by making not only making the story villain-less, but also have a somewhat shaky happy ending. It is the most unexpected stories since Wells Tower’s “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned”. These powerful stories exist on the precipice of hope and despair, love and self-loathing, and you won’t soon forget them when you are finished. An incredible collection.