His work has been called demented, hilarious, quirky and well outside the mainstream and with his sixth collection of short stories Manion unapologetically stays with that formula. Big sloshing mixes of poignancy and offensiveness, hope and callousness.
He understands that we are all kind and bigoted. Wonderful and pathetic. The human experience is wildly erratic.
And he won't pretend otherwise.
Having said that, his writing is not for everybody.
Do you really want to be everybody?
The other day it was partly cloudy, which doesn't make a great opening line but it does go a long way in explaining why when a bug landed on my nose it couldn't be said to have been “out of the blue.” It was partly cloudy ... as I just mentioned. Rarely does a bug land on someone's nose “out of the partly cloudy.”
I like to believe that I've evolved as a human being because I reacted very differently than I did the last time a bug landed on that particular spot. The last time I acted under the false premise that my nose was constructed with indestructible titanium and not the very structible bundle of nerve endings that it actually comprised.
I slugged myself right in the nose and left it all red and swollen and was forced to walk around the rest of the day sporting this testament to my poor decision-making.
The problem then, as it was the other partly cloudy day, is that while the bug did not wear the distinctive yellow and black colors of the notorious villains of the insect world, it sat on the end of my nose and, while my eyes are outstanding at gathering information from a variety of distances, the close proximity made the bug blurry.
Try as I might I could not make heads nor tails of what exactly was perched on the end of my snout.
This is where being a writer makes one susceptible to unfortunate flights of fancy. While most people would stop at a small number of insect suspects, the writer, given his or her training, can come up with a cornucopia of winged menaces that could have hypothetically plopped down and made themselves at home.
I guess this is a cautionary tale of sorts.
Everybody thinks they can write and most people aspire on some level to put the ol' pen to paper and take it for a spin on behalf of their fellow man. What they don't appreciate is the terrible toll it takes on your imagination. Scientifically speaking, I believe every time you think of a new odd idea you build a new neural pathway. You make a new connection which in turn allows you to make a similar odd connection more easily the next time the desire for weirdness takes hold. The odder you start to think the easier it is to continue to think of odder and odder things until such a time as you are sitting at a dinner party making small talk when all of a sudden you look up to find everyone else at the table staring at you with their mouths wide open in shock and bewilderment at what you thought was a pretty innocuous observation.
Some people don't think this part through, the dangers that lurk in thinking oddly. Once you slip to the odd side, it's a long road back. Book signings might be tedious but they are nothing compared to the horror show of lying awake at night staring at the ceiling with a writer's mind.
So instead of lashing out in fear I took a composed breath and tried to imagine all the whimsical circumstances that could have brought this noble creature to my nose. All of a sudden I was one with the universe. Connected with all living things. How two separate but equal beings such as me and this blurry little fellow could have found our paths entwined began to play out my head in great detail. Each scenario getting progressively more poignant.
I slowly pointed my head towards where the sun would have been, had it not been partly cloudy, as if showing the universe that I was a much better person than the last time I punched myself in the face. I was beaming and imagining my friend doing a little basking itself.
Perhaps I'd truly found some deeper appreciation of the beauty of life in all its many forms.
That's when the insect stung me and left my nose all red and swollen.
Well played, universe. Well played.