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.