Sean Leary is a freak magnet.
It must be true. It’s even the title of his collection of 13+ essays, detailing how unusual people flock to him. (My Life as a Freak Magnet, from Dreams Beach Productions).
If Sean is magnetic north for weird bag ladies on the Chicago bus who call him “anchyman” and/or various trailer park types who (usually) end up in some sort of physical or verbal altercation, then the back “teaser” on this 156-page collection gives an idea of the David Sedaris-like flavor of the total series of recollections from Sean’s youth and adulthood: “Call me a psychic, call me a genius, but I knew something was awry when I saw the two-year-old, clad only in a diaper, scampering across the gravel, two-fisting a full beer can. It was a tall boy. The beer, I mean, not the child.” (from “Last Train to Charlenesville”).
And so it goes.
Leary has a wry sense of humor and a way with titles such as “You Never Forget Your First Stabbing.” (No, you don’t, I suppose). He wishes each of us experiences similar to his own, saying, “May you live in interesting times, surrounded by interesting people.”
I particularly enjoy(ed) opening lines like “Never go to a wedding dressed in leather chaps and a spiked mask,” or titles such as “The Yeast Infection Girl Who Kidnapped Me.” It’s hard for me to decide which essay I enjoyed most: “It’s All In Your Head,” about the weird duo in the bookstore, (one of whom later shows up in an obituary as a man who commits suicide by jumping off the Centennial Bridge in Rock Island, Illinois) or “Riot in the Food Court,” a blow-by-blow account (literally) of all-out war waged in the North Park Mall Food Court in January, 2007. And you are there. Or, rather, Leary was there, watching and letting us know how the mayhem went down.
I enjoyed reading about Sean’s childhood and his circle of friends. Many of the phrases and figures of speech were funny as hell (If hell is funny…and we really don’t know, do we?)
My only English-teacher criticism (from 36 years of teaching), for which Sean will have to cut me some slack, would be: Always put yourself last when mentioning a group of people (eg. “If, not when, I and my family would finally be able to move away” but “If, not when, my family and I would finally be able to move away,” or , as on p. 67, “…I, my sister Tara, 9, brother Craig, 7, and sister Heather, 6, ..rifled down the stairs and out the front door…”). It definitely used to be a grammar rule.
If it’s not, excuuuuuuuuuuuse me. I, also, started writing at age 10, so I’ve been at this a lot longer than Sean, and the grammar rules keep changing on me.
I look forward to reading Sean’s short story collection Every Number Is Lucky to Someone next, and giving you some reactions to that no doubt equally enjoyable work, too.