The table of contents for Scott McClanahan’s The Collected Works Vol. 1 reads like a set list for a night of boozy storytelling. There’s “The Homeless Guy,” “The Chainsaw Guy” and “My Dad and the Cop.” There’s “Kidney Stones” and “Hernia Dog” and “The Prettiest Girl in Texas.” Truly, even before you read the first line of the first entry in this slim collection of stories, you have a sense of McClanahan the guy, and a sense of his work: These are tales like those we tell in person, over beers and among friends. They’re sometimes funny and sometimes bleak, and they reveal as much about ourselves as they do about anyone else in them.
I stumbled onto The Collected Works because of its cover (adages be damned), which is a cute (and legally ballsy?) imitation of a Penguin Classic, noticeably irreverent only on second glance. None of the 28 stories in the collection is more than a few pages, and most end in pseudo-philosophical punchlines that sometimes make you want to laugh and shed a tear at the same time. As author Sam Pink writes in the afterword:
“[McClanahan] writes in a way that is conscious of both his own absurdity and that of others, without overdoing either. He makes it really easy to like the narrator and to learn from the narrator’s experiences. Scott also knows how to balance humor and sadness.”