26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions

Fiction - Tall Tale
149 Pages
Reviewed on 06/14/2021
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

If you ever laughed at a dude slipping on a banana peel, even if you rushed to help lift him up - you may be a dark humor aficionado. It turns out the people who most understood and enjoyed dark humor like Edward Gorey or Tim Burton were also the most intelligent, educated, least troubled, and least aggressive. Apparently if you’re smart and in a manageable emotional state, you’re ready for a dark joke. The people least likely to be black-humor fans were the average folks, with medium values for intelligence, education, stability, and aggressiveness. All of which may suggest another reason why people who enjoy dark humor are snickering all the time: We’re better than everyone else. (Just joking.)

With sardonic wit and complete irreverence, Matthew Woodruff is one of America’s pre-eminent humor writers. The great skill with which he slices through cultural euphemisms and political correctness proves that Woodruff is a master of dark humor and satire and one of the most observant writers addressing the human condition today.

It is said that Matthew was born with a book in one hand and a pen in the other (his poor mother has never forgiven him but hey, at least it wasn't a typewriter...). A native New Yorker, Matthew is now on staff at the University of Florida. Matthew's vision of the world around us - seen in his dark humor and dark fiction works - is unique and not to be missed.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Pikasho Deka for Readers' Favorite

A collection of short stories by Matthew C. Woodruff, 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions explores the characters displayed in the illustrations by Edward Gorey. The chapters delve into the backstory behind each of the characters portrayed in The Gashlycrumb Tinies. Maria and her daughter move to Sienna, Florida, to open a B&B, but her grand plan doesn't work out as she thought. Eight-year-old Basil travels back 250 years using his mother's time machine, causing trouble for his mother, only to end up in woods surrounded by wild animals. Ida's obsession with mermaids leads her to search for an old catfish in the lake, resulting in the inevitable. A kid named Titus steals a package that turns out to be a bomb placed by the IRA.

Filled with humor and irony, 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions deftly showcases the fragile nature of life and the unpredictability of death. Matthew C. Woodruff's tales are short, surreal, and tragic, adding layers of depth to the characters portrayed in Gorey's illustrations. The stories are set in various eras and diverse environments, and although they differ in tone, every single one of them contains aspects of the surreal and the absurd that culminate in death toward the climax. The narrative sails smoothly and feels well-paced. I particularly enjoyed the stories involving the characters of Ernest, Fanny, Ida, Kate, Leo, and Prue. Matthew C. Woodruff's 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions primely highlights characters from Edward Gorey's work. I will highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys short stories.

Jon Michael Miller

Matthew C. Woodruff's 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions is a collection of alphabetically arranged, tongue-in-cheek vignettes describing, comically, children’s deaths. “What’s that?” you ask. “Come again?” Yes, you read correctly, and … I might add … brilliantly and imaginatively written. You will meet 26 fictional children and learn of their demises. For instance, there is Amy, whose mom dreams of opening a B&B in Florida and who tumbles down the stairs of a decaying southern mansion. And there is poor Earnest who chokes to death on a peach poisoned by a domestic cook. Fanny, who goes to spend a summer in the country, is eaten by swamp leeches. Prue is crushed in a Kansas City bar brawl. Winnie is frozen over in a Manitoba lake. Finally, unfortunately, Zillah drinks half a bottle of her granny’s gin, never to play with her dolly again.

I say, “tongue in cheek” and “brilliantly written,” but why you might ask, has someone taken time out of their artistic endeavors to create such a bizarre collection. Well, in his foreword, Matthew C. Woodruff explains his admiration for the illustrations of one Edward Gorey, an American artist who created an illustrated alphabet book, a name for each letter, and a drawing of their final resting place. From these pictures (which are collected in an alphabet poster for anyone who might want to instruct their children using such a visual), Mr. Woodruff lets loose his rich imagination to write the backstories of how these unfortunate youngsters met their tragic fates. In the process, we are transported to many places—London, Wisconsin, the German ocean, Czechoslovakia, New Orleans, to name a few; and we learn about ice fishing, sailing vessels, Lakka & Lutefisk, becherovoka, and so much more. Woodruff’s knowledge of places and things seems to know no bounds. Matthew C. Woodruff's 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions is a collection of unforgettable ironic writing about a subject many readers would consider off limits; but with that said, it is literary art at its finest.

Michael Gardner

Matthew C. Woodruff's 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions delivers exactly what the title promises. Here are 26 stories about various children (one for each letter of the alphabet) having absurd adventures that lead to a tragic death. If you like your protagonists alive at the end of a story, then this book isn’t for you. If you like darkly witty stories that will tickle your funny bone for entirely the wrong reason, then you’ll have a blast. Imagine The Twilight Zone meets writers like Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, or Kurt Vonnegut. Throw in some very twisted deaths and you have these 26 stories. Matthew C. Woodruff says in his foreword that the collection is inspired by the illustrations of Edward Gorey. I looked them up and immediately saw where he was coming from. They're dark, sinister, mind-bending images and these stories certainly do justice to that inspiration.

Matthew C. Woodruff breaks the ‘show don’t tell’ rule right through the book and breaks it well. While he’s the main voice in each story, his method of storytelling is marvelously entertaining, along with regular witty authorial interjections that make you feel like he's sitting in your lounge giving you cheeky winks. And even while being the main voice, he manages to change the style from one tale to the next, giving us glib, satirical, deadpan, and much more. The standard of writing is very good throughout, with zany, creative descriptions that really add the glue to each story. If I had to pick a favorite, I liked Basil’s twisted tale, which isn’t really about Basil at all. It’s more about his Russian time travel inventing scientist mother. The story is essentially a long and very funny buildup to Basil’s almost inconsequential death, as that’s the only part he has in it. Overall, excellent. This house of horrors is well worth the admission fee.

Vincent Dublado

The first time I read the title of Matthew C. Woodruff’s 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions, it instantly piqued my curiosity, and for a book title enough to hook a reader, this is brilliant—and the stories contained herein deliver the title’s promise. These stories are inspired by the illustrative works of writer and artist Edward Gorey. Intriguing, strange, sad, and utterly charming, these tales are allegories of the human condition that are well-represented in the guise of dark humor. From young Amy whose life failed to meet her mother’s grand plan to Zillah who lives with her cursed grandmother, the tales of these ill-fated children make for great bedtime reads and a brilliant alternative to your traditional happily ever after fairy tales.

There’s a certain charm to children’s stories that you cannot find in adult fiction. It’s odd how this anthology amuses me and keeps me wanting for more tragic and absurd tales and hoping that Woodruff will come up with a second volume. Each plot per story goes far more than mere unfortunate events. They are exciting because you feel sorry for the characters, but you learn something that you don’t find depressing. One story I particularly enjoyed is that of Basil, the son of a leading quantum physicist, who built a time machine in a garage and defrauded the Russian government. This is one example of a story with humorous depth that can easily elicit a reaction from any reader regardless of age. Matthew C. Woodruff’s 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions is a delight to read. If you have ever read and enjoyed The Gashlycrumb Tinies, this book gives it a sublime tribute that both parents and children can enjoy.

Lesley Jones

Matthew C. Woodruff's 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions is a compilation of weird and wonderful short stories that takes you into an obscure and wondrous world of human behavior. Each story will unravel the complexities of society, their views, attitudes, and mindsets, and how these have changed over time. From a woman looking forward to an exciting new business venture to a quantum physicist and inventor of the time machine to an extortionate circus manager, a struggling shoemaker, and many more. Each amazing tale will be a stark reminder that we all have the ability to make choices but these choices come with consequences and repercussions. Our destiny and fate are dependent on the actions we choose. Has society changed its attitude towards those who are different from themselves? Why does man often view those with differing backgrounds, cultures, and social status with a negative judgmental attitude while others have kindness in abundance? Does every human life hold the same importance and does karma exist? The answers to these questions are for you to decide.

This collection of brilliantly written stories has thought-provoking subjects and life lessons in abundance. The descriptive narrative is exceptional and really draws you into the world of the characters. For example, the description of the house occupied by Maria was hilarious, ‘showing its age like an old drag queen – sagging soffits, bulging casements, peeling paint and trees and bushes badly in need of pruning, all combining for an air of futility and lethargy unseen since the latest round of Middle East peace talks.’ The characters were diverse, extremely interesting, and their vivid personalities jumped from the page. I related to many of the characters and the situations they found themselves in. There were many brilliantly executed plot twists; some were really shocking while others were truly heartbreaking. I feel any of the stories would have made compelling full novels. I adored Clara’s tragic story and also the character of shy little Winnie Tremblay. Although there are many tragic stories, there are tales of the sublime and ridiculous too that will make you laugh out loud. The story of the shoemakers in Olive’s story was my favorite. The dialogue exchanges were sharp and witty. The stories in Matthew C. Woodruff's 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions are filled with life lessons, such as judging others, kindness, humility, and gratitude. Some of the subject matter is very hard-hitting that will definitely make you stop and ponder your views and the opinions of others.