Larry Fondation, Unintended Consequences

Publisher: Raw Dog Press
2009, 140 pages, paperback, $13.95

it’s with a kind of ironically noir pastiche that Unintended Consequences, Larry Fondation’s fourth book, looks directly into the face of LA street misery. Imbuing more or less dissolute characters with the fears, longings, and quirks of real people, the stories in this collection resonate with a search for meaning in an all-too-familiar culture of exploitation and ignorance. Fondation’s work is political. His fiction, like his long-time job as a community organizer in LA, zeroes in on the underdog, the criminal, the impoverished, the materialistic, and the squalid. Smartly avoiding the didacticism and preachiness that dulls much activist fiction, Fondation’s bluntness may prove difficult for some readers to swallow. Still, anyone prone to stickle at the grime and sleaze in these stories might consider how art can inoculate, or how it can stand against certain realities by holding a lens to them. Fondation’s concrete, lyrical style, along with a steady unwillingness to moralize, leaves readers with the burden of reflection, forcing us to look squarely at the marginalized degradation of LA, if not all of America, and decide what to do next.

In terms of craft, the sixty five short-short stories in Unintended Consequences are superb examples of narrative compression, of finding decisive moments in fiction to develop characters in the least amount of space. Populated with gun-wielding bar mates, murderers, prostitutes, thugs, and homeless, these stories constitute an unflagging gaze at LA poverty and seediness. A street-wise tone, coupled with pleasantly jarring, borderline-surreal plot twists give Fondation’s narratives a pulpy feel, while his plain style makes him imminently readable.

In “Getting Married,” a man returns to a barroom for a fight that doesn’t happen and inexplicably finds himself holding the patrons hostage. The confessional timbre and lyricism of the story ante up a ridiculous, but saleable, plot:

Two days later I came back, but he wasn’t there. That’s when all this really began. A mess. An awful mess. That’s what I’d gotten myself into. Holed up in a bar. Well, not holed up exactly. Holding people hostage. There I said it. That’s the straight scoop. I had fifteen people in the bar and I had a gun on them. I didn’t know what I was doing or why.

More confessionals: In “Desire for Blood,” an army veteran wants to murder someone “real bad” but avoid prison, so he settles on practicing martial arts and trying to get mugged. The plan is to kill in self-defense. Eventually he succeeds. Similarly, in “Don’t Walk,” a man admits to a fatal hit and run, during which his friend, beside him in the passenger seat, has freaked out and shot himself in the head. In each of these stories, readers may wonder, “Who is being addressed here?” or rather, “What role is the audience meant to play?” We get the feeling that we’re somehow in the criminal’s mind as he pretends to brag to some cornered bar mate, except the criminal isn’t really talking: it’s his jaded conscience talking to itself. The effect is that we enter into the psychology of the criminal and are at once attracted and repelled. The same goes for the homeless in Fondation’s fiction. By directly confronting the face of marginalized urban despair, we’re compelled to sympathize, and to acknowledge the human condition in the gutters, cardboard boxes, and dumpsters of the city. In short, Fondation’s economy and intrepid points of view make revolting subject matter enjoyable, provocative reading.

-Josh Collins