Return To The Dirt: savage social satire

 

ReturnDirtIn time-honoured fashion, these three taut tales of work and death employ humour to highlight the worst aspects of human behaviour. They’re sharp, savage slices of smartly observed social satire, with humour so bleak it raises blisters, so black it casts a sinister shadow on a superficially sunny existence. Each novella is entirely separate and tells its own, self-contained story, but they’re linked by a definite theme. Author Geoff Sturtevant writes in an engaging, easy going tone which lulls the reader into believing these might be benign interludes of banter spiced up with a bit of bad boy business…

Then the sucker punch sneaks up on your synapses. One moment you’re giggling about the waste of a college education on ‘The Technician’ (a man who spends his days sweating in a badly-cut corporate uniform) and in the next heartbeat, there’s dying bloke on the floor having his brains mushed up with a screwdriver. It’s deliberately outlandish and provocative. And hugely entertaining.

These gruesome and graphic stories may be short but they haven’t been just dashed off in a couple of hours to fill a few pages with pretty prose. The precisely-planned storylines feature credible, well-developed three-dimensional characters. They move through fully realised alternate realities, crammed with convincing detail (like the matchbooks in ‘The Technician’, a lovely touch).

Occasionally the plot device is apparent early on – especially in ‘You Are What You Eat’ which will feels entirely familiar to fans of 1970s sci-fi. But knowing where it’s going doesn’t spoil the fun in getting there… nor does it make any of Sturtevant’s razor-sharp social observations any less cutting. Ever wondered what we’re going to do with all our aging populations, how the care of old folk can possibly be financed? Sturtevant constructs a deliberately extreme solution in ‘The Organisation’ with a dystopian future that feels entirely familiar.

It helps that he includes some wicked pen-portraits of famous folk here, too. As with the two other tales, you don’t quite know whether to choke with laughter or tears – these cerebral stories are disturbing but curiously captivating, in a slo-mo car-crash kinda way. They don’t necessarily say anything new, but they hammer home a message which few people want to hear. And do it in bloodily entertaining style.

In short, they’re a pitch-perfect combination of gob-smacking chutzpah and intelligent moral comment, where absurdity and outrage are deftly employed to illustrate some very human truths. Can’t wait to see what this guy could deliver in the shape of a full length novel.

8/10

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

Return To The Dirt by Geoff Sturtevant is available as an ebook or paperback

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