2007 – Reissued 2017

Reviews & Comments

Dennis Must’s splendid new collection Oh, Don't Ask Why is a worthy successor to Banjo Grease, his first book of stories, and it advances elements from that work: diminution of vitality, dissolution of family, fierce filial loyalties, a mingling of sexual ardor, grief, loss, and spiritual and moral anxiety and ambiguity. These elements are not merely threads in the collection's tapestry but are its very gut and sinew. The glass through which Must's character perceive life is definitely noir, and they are daunted by a variety of forces, among them multiple personalities and suicidal longings (hope and despair can exist in the same sentence in a Must story), and many have an aesthetic subtext. Often it seems the sacred can only be defined by and in the presence of the profane—think of Kafka, Flannery O'Connor, Nathaniel West, Hawthorne. This is a darkly funny book that provokes the sort of laughter that dies in your throat as you realize that, as Brecht put it, “He who laughs has not yet been told the terrible news.” In Oh, Don't Ask Why we can again admire Must's trademark swift exposition and startling visual coups, and experience his affinity for the perfect detail. This collection will haunt the reader for a long, long time; as a Fitzgerald notebook entry goes, “Draw your chair up close to the edge of the precipice and I'll tell you a story.”—Geoffrey Clark , author of WEDDING IN OCTOBER and JACKDOG SUMMER, plus short story collections.

Dennis Must reading from Oh, Don't Ask Why, for Terrain.org. Cornelia Street Cafe, Greenwich Village, NYC, January 30, 2008.   Photo by Donna J. Gelagotis Lee.
Dennis Must’s imagery and language are striking. He paints vivid, often eerie, always compelling pictures. Individually the stories are wonderfully multilayered, easy and enjoyable reads on one level; challenging and perplexing on another. As a whole, the pieces form a mosaic that takes on a defined shape and purpose; the various repeated and/or restated themes coalesce into an overall form…His work reminds me of the earthiness of Jim Harrison and the fanciful excursions of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, though it s all uniquely Dennis Must. LAMENT may well be the best story in the collection. It s just brilliant. —Peter Pryor, Poet, Executive Editor of The Hollywood Reporter

I cannot come up with any recent parallels to Dennis Must’s free improvisation with the language, using profanity as a cutting edge to lay bare the longings of the soul, except for Robert Johnson s ghostly lyrics, while the improvisational verve recalls blasts of noise from Ornette Coleman or Charles Mingus…Reading his stories gives me the recurring image of the writer cruising fast late at night on some godforsaken highway, flipping the radio dial. The signal he s looking for is the one beamed out of his childhood hometown.
When he hits it, despite the raging storms of static, he hears clear bursts of rant, music, preaching, and complaint. And he is transported into ecstasy. (So is the reader, I swear.) —Andrew Wilson, Novelist, Editor of Linnaean Street

Read the Salem Gazette article about Dennis and Oh Don’t Ask Why

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