This offbeat collection about endangered marriages is sure to please. There aren’t enough superlatives to praise Brock Clarke’s extraordinary new collection, The Price of the Haircut. In fact, it’s hard to find fault or serious flaws with any of the 11 stories. Clarke is outrageously inventive. He has a masterful command of voice, style, and character, and an off-key humor which is often mind-boggling ... Without reservation, the stories in The Price of the Haircut are a series of unexpected, rewarding pleasures. They are the finest products of an accomplished writer with a unique mind.
Why does the Bowdoin English professor find bad ideas so inviting? Because he’s a cockeyed moralist drawn to hot-button American social issues — racial tensions, domestic abuse, military quagmires — the way a tongue is drawn to a canker sore. His default mode is absurdism because, as he wrote in a recent author’s statement, 'absurdity is often the best way to fully appreciate how very bad our very bad ideas really are' ... A similar twisted logic informs most of the other stories in the book. It works best in Clarke’s longer tales where he has room to spin persuasive variations on self-defeating behavioral patterns ... Some of the shorter tales in the book — 'The Grand Canyon,' 'Cartoons' — are dry to the point of being arid, no matter how clever they are. But at his cynical best, Clarke taps deep into the way we sabotage or delude ourselves, simply as a way to go on living.
Full of sharp left turns and unexpected narrative choices, Clarke’s ... bleak yet hilarious collection constantly mixes the seemingly mundane with the profound ... In trying to illuminate how we discuss race, war, and family dynamics, Clarke shows he is constantly willing to push boundaries. The resulting tales are hilarious, haunting, and original.
His tales, spun from a thread dipped in what witty allegories are made of, reach deep to express powerful emotions, and are consistent in their efforts to explore the complexities of human nature. Clarke’s strength is his cognizance of the surreal, lurking in plain sight yet hidden from the public eye. Clarke’s prowess for the process of defamiliarization stems from this alertness. He wields this tool masterfully, bringing the strangeness of mankind to the forefront in a bid to expose the ridiculous nature of our society and the things we value. By the end of this collection, Clarke has dedicated his eccentric combination of absurd comedy and gut-wrenching tragedy to a range of contemporary themes, from race to the fragility of love and life ... Clarke is so in love with commas that his sentences stretch on for pages at a time. His prose is long and winding, but carefully tailored
Brock Clarke ... knows how to build a perfect mixture of dark desperation and humor ... Clarke's The Price of the Haircut is an impressive collection of stories, some more stylistic than substantial, but they should all entertain and challenge and linger. Clarke has created an impressive world here that's well worth visiting.
In his third short story collection, Clarke (An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England) offers 11 satirical, sometimes surreal, tales that investigate broken individuals and flawed societal expectations ... Clarke’s disquieting, droll work reflects humanity like a dark fun house mirror.