Saturday, June 4, 1983

Gargoyle Magazine reviews Richard Grayson's LINCOLN'S DOCTOR'S DOG

The Washington, D.C.-based Gargoyle reviews Richard Grayson's Lincoln's Doctor's Dog on page 78 of issue 22/23 (1983):

Lincoln's Doctor's Dog, by
Richard Grayson, White Ewe
Press, P.O. Box 996, Adelphi, MD
20783, 1982, 187 pp., $11.95,

Don't let the cover picture or the title of Lincoln's Doctor's Dog, Richard Grayson's third collection of short stories, mislead you. Despite the realistic line drawing of Abraham Lincoln, a doctor, and a dog on the cover, the title story and the rest of the stories have nothing to do with a dog running to get Lincoln medical help or performing other heroic doggy deeds. Grayson couldn't care much less about Lincoln, his doctor, or his doctor's dog. This is bad news for all of you readers in search of sentimental mush about famous pets, but good news for those in search of a confirmed tongue-in-cheek.

In the title story, Richard Grayson thinly disguises a comic opera as a shaggy dog story. He shows off many of his favorite tricks: writing about writing; terrible plays on words ("Lincoln's doctor's dog's mother was a bitch"); a determination to involve the reader ("First of all, congratulations on your good taste in reading this story. . . But. . . I'd like you to consider if there's something else you should be doing at the moment."); manic speed (Grayson manages to race through all of the dog's life and describe a day in his own life in four pages); and using Richard Grayson as a major character.

One of the pleasures of reading Grayson is just watching him crank up his imagination and run with it. He experiments with different formats: question and answer, short paragraphs headed by adverbs, numbered fragments, and straight narratives. He tries writing about all sorts of different situations. His characters get paralyzed from flu shots, find work with the women of their dreams in x-rated movies, and have intimate relationships (including joketelling sessions) with porpoises. Going farther and father into an idea brings outstanding moments, such as this one in "Why Van Johnson Believes in ESP":
When Van Johnson first left Hollywood, his sister cried. He took her aside. . . and asked her, "Mabel, do you believe in dragons?" That was an old thing between them.

"Yes," his sister answered.

Then she didn't cry anymore and it was okay for Van Johnson to leave for Hollywood.

Grayson usually mixes up similar concoctions of absurdity and realism, with a dash of neurosis thrown in. My favorite stories capture an alienation, a sense of the individual as hopelessly puzzled as he or she stumbles through life. Expressed in "For the Time Being":
They do it with mirrors. That is how other people live. They have tricks I do not know about.

Not all of his efforts succeed. But you have to admire his reach (although you might wish he had exerted a little restraint by keeping the failures out of this collection). "I, Eliza Custis," the first-person tale of woe of George Washington's step-granddaughter, must have been a lot of fun to write in its ornate pseudo-eighteenth-century, self-pitying style ("But I feel it is important to me, having passed the age of fifty, to recount the events of my life for those who wish in the future to know the full story of my existence upon this planet."). But twenty-four pages of this quickly becomes tiresome. Also, Grayson's characters, despite the variety of their external circumstances, are very similar in internal circumstances.

But these are minor objections. Lincoln's Doctor's Dog is a lot of fun to have around the house and requires less effort than any other type of pet.

—Susan Lloyd McGarry

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