Like Andre Duza, Bruce Taylor, (a.k.a. Mr. Magical Realism), is an author who’s work I first came across in the Orange edition of the Bizarro Starter Kit. The Final Trick of Funnyman is Bruce’s first collection of short stories and includes the story that hooked me on Bruce’s writing: “The Breath Amidst the Stones” is a funny, surreal story about a world where inanimate objects come to life.

I hear whispering. I look around. The books are talking among themselves. Suddenly there is a paper-thin scream. Tropic of Cancer has just opened its pages and exposed itself to Jane Eyre.

These brief but fascinating flashes of unreality are a reoccurring thing in this book. Another of examples of this type of story is “Dr. Frederick’s Last Task,” in which a doctor spends a typical day treating the various ailments of his patients.

There was Mr. Gleckin, a young man with dark eyes and black hair who complained of a burning sensation on his back. He requested burn medication without considering his flaming shirt might be the problem.

A particularly funny story in this vein is “Der Fuhrer as a Bad Kitchen Appliance”, a dialogue between two anonymous people on what kind of kitchen appliance Hilter would work best as.

When Bruce isn’t leaving reality behind altogether, he’s creating surreal parables. For example, in “The First, Last and Only Painting of Pablo Caso,” Bruce explores the relationship between the artist and his work. A boy becomes fascinated with art and spends all his time studying it. However, he refuses to actually paint anything.

Because when I do paint, I will only paint only picture. It will be the best, most perfect picture ever painted. If I were to live after I painted such a picture, I would forever feel that I could somehow improve upon it.


The Final Trick of Funnyman and Other Stories by Bruce Taylor

When he finally gets around to painting it, it’s as amazing as he claimed it would be. It’s a wonderful tale about what an artist must go through before he can create an especially great and meaningful piece of art.

Also in this vein are the stories “Vacation”, a thought-provoking existential science fiction fable, and “Onions,” a story about stripping away the hardened layers the years throw onto us. My favorite of this type of stories is probably “The Baker.” A baker finds the demands for his rolls is too great to handle by himself and purchases a robot to assist. Bruce builds the story around a really lame pun, but manages to create a fun tale about examining one’s place in society.

Not all of these work though. “Coats,” a story about a boy forced to wear a heavy, ill-fitting coat his entire life,  is rather heavy-handed with its central metaphor and ends up being too obvious and preachy to enjoy as a piece of fiction.

Child-like wonderment runs through all of the stories. The stories of a young boy named Edward bring this theme to the forefront. In “Altair II,” Edward makes a planet from paper mache and a balloon. He can’t help but go around and show everyone in the neighborhood, until it accidentally breaks.

One of the most interesting stories in the book is “Gregory’s Vision,” a story about a boy growing up in the space age and dreaming of becoming an astronaut when he grows up. The complete wonderment of this child at the age he’s growing up in, takes on a whole new meaning in 2014. This story was obviously written back when there was still hope of America’s space program leading to great things. With the funding to NASA being cut more and more and how obvious it is there isn’t much hope of us going back into space, this story becomes bitter and depressing in hindsight.

I highly recommend The Final Trick of Funnyman to fans of science fiction, bizarro, magic realism, and just to anyone who likes short stories. Bruce Taylor’s first collection is a strong set of many different kinds of short stories that most will find something to like in.



Ben Arzate lives in Des Moines, Iowa. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Ugly Babies, Bizarro Central, Spoilage, The Mustache Factor, Twenty Something Press, and Keep This Bag Away From Children. He blogs at

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