by Hans Joseph Fellmann
Goodnight Suzy is a collection of semi-autobiographical shorts in loose chronological order from early childhood to early twenties. Threaded through them are connected themes, characters, and sub-texts. The stories are written from the perspective of Johann Felmanstien, Fellmann’s audacious and autonomous alter-ego.
I have reviewed Fellmann’s work twice before* and, with Goodnight Suzy, he remains one of the most exciting and unpredictably exhilarating writers that I have read. You are never quite sure where a Fellmann story is heading but you know it’s going to be damn good, wickedly funny, and brutally direct.
Goodnight Suzy is no exception. All the stories operate on several levels with layers of meaning that a reader can either fully engage with or they can simply be read for the brilliantly written, coming-of-age riot that they are.
The bitter tang of disillusionment and regret echoes through a number of them and certainly the first, Viki LaFleur, which has a dark, brooding quality and a sense of hopeless inevitability.
Payday is a clever and visceral treat; is it an innocuous tale about a greedy little boy, a paean to addiction, or a commentary on materialistic greed and rampant consumerism? As in Viki LaFleur, the sentences are short, almost staccato-like, emphasizing the child’s point of view and a sense of detachment from surroundings.
Indeed, throughout, Felmanstien quite often remains an observer, not a participant. This innate diffidence produces some of his best and funniest prose.
The titular tale, Goodnight Suzy, simmers with violence and volatility. It’s a disturbing story that swells with an unpleasant sense of foreboding, given the title. However, that would be too predictable, and skillfully the reader is just swerved off the anticipated course. It makes the story even more unsettling as it hints at stronger instability in the narrator than first imagined.
First of Many and Lazy Boy are short odes to alcohol and substance abuse, the latter one of the only two stories written in the third person and focusing on “Hawk”, a character in a number of the pieces, and his representation here is at uncomfortable, thought-provoking odds than with before.
Yardwork is sharp, unforgiving, and viciously amusing. This piece is where Felmanstien’s self-awareness and occasional loathing evolve. Amid the antics, there is the slow-dawning recognition that, a bit like sand in the machinery, something inside Felmanstien isn’t always quite right.
Both Lectures and Turbo Sal express a welter of troubling and conflicting emotions in very few words. The Most Beautiful Hair in Livermore explores a core theme and has the most wonderful characterization in Shokoufeh, the hairdresser. Felmanstien is adept at describing a character in the most acute and individual of terms.
Ciao Nigga paints Rio de Janeiro in vibrant, sweltering unease, Café Con Leche the second written in the third-person has a whiff of allegory, and The Brownie Incident is appropriately intense and humorous.
There are two longer stories, One-Eighty and Hooked. The former is an uproarious road trip that employs lots of small comic effects. Felmanstien excels when he’s traveling, the vernacular that banters between him and his compadres is just so intrinsically funny and effortlessly natural.
Hooked is a three-part story, encompassing a Central American trip but its driving concern is Felmanstien’s toxic relationship with his girlfriend, Tanya. Beguiling, neurotic, and possessed of low animal cunning, Tanya plays expertly on both her own and Felmanstien’s vulnerabilities. It’s a rollercoaster read that manages to be both laugh-out-loud hilarious and painfully affecting.
The collection is heavily footnoted which I find appealing from an educational angle. Further, these well-researched and organized nuggets of information imparted in academic style contrast interestingly with Felmanstien blasting his unashamedly irreverent way through some truly bizarre situations.
Goodnight Suzy is a wildly entertaining, whip-smart, and blisteringly authentic collection woven with moments of outrageous comedy and sobering poignancy. As the author himself advises, “enjoy the ride”. Highly recommended.
*Click here for my review of Saving Jahan
*Click here for my review of The Heart that Beats