Book Reviews

What I’ve Been Reading: All the Aliens in the Neighborhood by Donald Dewey

All the Aliens in the Neighborhood is a collection of short stories from formidable author Donald Dewey. This grouping of stories reminded me a bit of Joyce’s Dubliners, only these are set in Brooklyn instead of the Irish capital.

Donald Dewey is an experienced author with the writing chops to handle heavy topics with patience and levelheadedness.  I thought The Opals Man impressively displays how a mentally ill person’s behavior can start out as simply a little strange and eventually transition into completely irrational activity as they justify it and let it become their “normal”. The main character, Malek, develops a habit of taking daily trips on the train that stretch longer and longer every day, often with no destination or purpose. This begins after a failed romantic relationship. He eventually gets to the point where he is spending more time on the train than he is in his apartment. The writing displays this odd behavior without portraying Malek as an insane person. Pretty far along in the story, I realized that I’d pretty much been accepting Malek’s reasons for his behavior because Dewey does an admirable job of displaying the way a mentally ill person’s brain sneakily and relentlessly shifts thinking into unhealthy directions. In other words, the descent into abnormal behavior is not an instant change; it happens through a constant chipping away of rational thought.

All the Aliens in the Neighborhood is the final story and the namesake of this book. It’s an interesting glimpse into the mind of a priest, Mahan, who is relatively young, but feels the impending responsibility on the way come as changes occur in the parish. Rather than rely on an overly dramatic crisis of faith, the story takes a more sober look at the doubts and concerns of a priest who seems to be at a bit of a crossroads when it comes to his future as a member of the clergy. He tries to understand if his troubles mean he shouldn’t be a priest, or if his struggles will help him more closely reach people and actually make him a better priest.

My main criticism is that a majority of the stories in the book are written from the point of view of older males. It would have strengthened the collection to have more material written from the perspective of females or younger folks. I think it would have been cool to build a more complete group of characters so we can see life in this Brooklyn community from more angles.  Still, the stories are though-provoking, and you feel a connection to the characters quickly in each tale. Dewey has a recognizable talent for developing distinct characters. I didn’t feel like I was just reading about the same person in a slightly different setting as I moved from story to story. Each story had its own flavor, tone and spirit.

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