Family Romance: Our Cup of Meat

Jaded Ibis guarantee: visuals came first, then verbals

Kendley Fiction confirms it: Bizarro fabulist Tom Bradley exists, and he appears to be entirely human.

Taller than most, and much redder, but still.

I know Bradley exists because he taught alongside me at a Japanese institution of higher learning in the mid ’90s. I met him at a spring semester start-up confab. This was a seasonal ritual in which gaijin EFL instructors reassured a harried consortium secretary that they could dress themselves, show up on time, and remain more-or-less sober during short presentations.

We played Japanese. It was fun! We smiled and bowed and sat in neat rows. The secretary was pleased. Everything was great.

Then came the turd in the punchbowl, a ginger giant in a voluminous Hawaiian shirt. He made it clear that the whole thing was a complete waste of his time. He split the second it was over, leaving the rest of us standing forlorn in our cheap Korean suits.

Months later, my mentor at that college told me of a manuscript received from a colleague. Tom Bradley, he called this colleague. A tall fellow…

“And red?” I asked tremulously. “Very red, favoring shirts Hawaiian and floral?”

It was so. Bradley’s manuscript had displeased my mentor, who declined to pass it along to a friend at the William Morris Agency.

“It just wasn’t my cup of meat,” he said, employing a conflation of aphorism and euphemism he had used to great effect in his own manuscript, Let’s Practice Colloquial English.

Time passed: I returned to the States with Renée, my honeycrunch Canadienne; my mentor hunkered down to spawn in the jungles of darkest Siam; and Tom Bradley emerged as the inakamono anchorite godfather of Bizarro letters.

Now, two decades years later and half a world away, I can say without qualification that Tom Bradley’s Family Romance is Kendley Fiction’s cup of meat.

Even the initial premise is irresistible: Nick Patterson provided ninety illustrations, and Bradley wove among them a tale of life under an industrialized, militaristic theocracy dedicated to the genocide of the relic Amalekites, wretches cursed by Jehovah in the first book of Samuel way back in the porno-scriptural times before whatever Big Thing brought us to this point, said genocide undertaken in order to recover the Weapon of Sparse Destruction allegedly developed by said relic Amalekites.

Our narrator, growing up in the shadow of an absent father, resides in urban catastrophe on the banks of the Judeuphrates River with his sister (nearly catatonic thanks to the tender ministrations of the Grand Religiopath and/or his minions) and Mom.

Let’s conjure the voice of Bradley himself to tell you about Mom.

Four ways to read Family Romance:

1) an ironically pseudo-semi-autobiographical take on boyhood in Utah during the age of above-ground H-bomb testing, perhaps Bradley blowing off steam left over from Fission Among the Fanatics,

2) a scathing allegorical satire of modern America gone off the rails in a jingoistic, genocidal frenzy of right-wing Christian extremism,

3) an extended and elaborate Rorschach test in which we examine the relationships between Patterson’s disturbing stimuli and Bradley’s horrifying, outrageously funny responses,

4) or a heartwarming coming-of-age story.

Take your pick.

The real point of reading Bradley, aside from his illumination of the ridiculous and grotesque world around us, is the rolling cadence of his pitch-perfect writing. We prize competent prose here at Kendley Fiction, but we absolutely adore Bradley’s strong, steady voice guiding us with spot-on verbiage and heady switchbacks to revelations by turns disgusting, divine, and gut-bustingly hilarious.

He’s always a treat, and knowing that Nick Patterson’s drawings came first gives us a little more insight into the mind of Tom Bradley (see option 3, above). Presented with these disturbing and downright frightening illustrations, why did Bradley choose this direction for his narrative?
some_thing
• A Relic Amalekite cleansing its fundament with tufts of tall grass — yup. What else would this illustration portray, now that I read the text?
Mom is crowned Equestrienne Princess at the gala defense expo. She employs her formidable vagina to point out the superior vertebral development of her urban assault vehicle.
• Mom employing “her formidable vagina to point out the superior vertebral development of her urban assault vehicle” — check.
moth explodes face
• This illustration engenders the phrases “Sneeze Catastrophic” and “off-the-shoulder love-sarongs.”

Of course it does.

But who the hell would make those particular associations in the first place?

Bradley, that’s who. He’s one of a kind.

In the long run, our own reactions to Family Romance may be the greatest revelation of all. Learn more about Tom Bradley — and perhaps more about yourself as well, liebchen. Kendley Fiction guarantees that, at the very least, you will not, cannot, be neutral about Family Romance, our cup of meat.

This post was previously published in a for-the-love-online litmag. We meant it then, too.

James Kendley launched his fiction career in 2009. He has published numerous short stories and two novels, The Drowning God and The Devouring God. He has written and edited professionally for more than 30 years, first as a newspaper reporter and editor, then as a copy editor and translator in Japan (where he taught for eight years at private colleges and universities), and currently as a content wrangler in Northern Virginia.

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