Bigfoots in Paradise, Doug Lawson
Doug Lawson

Bigfoots in Paradise

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Beauty and terror collide in Doug Lawson’s Bigfoots in Paradise, a wild new collection of stories set largely in and around Santa Cruz, California and the surrounding mountains. It’s a land tucked between Silicon Valley and the Pacific Ocean, one that’s populated by aging hippies and venture capitalist sharks, pot farmers and surfers, child prodigies and roaming herds of wild boar. Earthquakes rumble, meth labs explode, helicopters search overhead for drug farms while wildfires ravage the hillsides. Blimps crash, mushrooms dream, dogfights erupt, trustafarians pontificate while pneumatic ostriches walk the streets and sons and fathers and lovers try desperately to find some way to connect with the past, with themselves, before it’s too late.

Doug’s prize-winning prose is as nimble and touching as it is lyric, and he plunges headlong into this astonishing country at a fine-tuned, white-knuckled pace that will leave you both gasping for breath and holding your heart in your hands. His characters are awkward, ungainly, and great at hiding and they shamble through the beautiful wilderness of their lives, searching for meaning, searching for themselves.

• In The Mushroom Hunter, a young man goes to live with his once-violent childhood friend, the man’s girlfriend and her son, just before the massive Loma Prieta earthquake strikes. They hunt mushrooms up and down the mountains as the mountains build up to the great quake, not realizing the danger they’re all in from the quake, and from each other.

• In Catch the Air, a blimp crashes into the ocean as a start-up company fails and a father and son struggle with the father’s famous, failing mind.

• In The Night Witches, a face out of her counter-cultural past causes a Santa Cruz mother to re-evaluate everything she’s come to call her life.

• In House on Bear Mountain, a woman inherits a vacation house in the Sierras from her dead husband, only to find her husband’s family isn’t quite ready to let it go yet.

• In a modern take on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, The Beekeeper of Rio Momon sends a group of urban farmers on a misguided quest for one of their own, deep into the South American wilderness.

• In Bigfoots in Paradise, a group of friends set out to film bigfoot in the Santa Cruz Mountains, only to discover there’s a lot more bigfoot inside of each of them.

Doug’s stories stand out today for their verbal pyrotechnics, their dark humor and their emotional impact. His Santa Cruz stories tackle themes of parenthood, memory, class divide, self-indulgence, and adulthood in a way that leaves his characters’ hearts bare, and their minds spinning, while as readers we can’t imagine what could possibly happen next.
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REMEMBER I grabbed the table first. Then I stood up and hung on to the swaying wall. I was thinking I should get into a doorway. I’d always heard a doorway would be better but hell, when it was swinging back and forth like that? The door flapping loose? I thought I could dive through it maybe. If I was closer. If I had good aim. Flat out onto the gravel. That would still be better than getting sandwiched by the second floor. Then I thought I should just get under the goddamn table, but by then it was over.
“That was—” I said, catching my breath, “that was a big one.” I looked at Chundo across several spilled bags of mushrooms. My hair was standing on end, some sort of static charge. The hanging lights were swinging and flickering. Glasses had fallen off the shelf and smashed into those already in the dirty makeshift sink. A bookshelf came to rest. A radio that had been playing Love and Rockets lay broken on the floor.
“That?” Chundo said with a smirk. He had a shaved head, the tattoo of a dragon looking up out of his shirt. With the tip of a knife, he picked up what I’d recognize now as a candy cap. “That was just a hiccup from God, Barn.”
He was right. There would be similar quakes all up and down the mountains that year, leading to the big one. The ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains would shake itself again and again, like a dog after a bath. I’d get used to it. Sand volcanoes would bloom in the dirt roads. Electric charges would leap from our fingertips. There would be days when we all had auras and halos, flickering turquoise and violet. Some nights my cot would sway so much I’d dream I was below decks on an old ship, but after a week of tremors I’d just roll over and keep snoring.
A tattooed woman and a kid came in then. She was carrying another bag full of mushrooms. The kid was laughing and hooting, weaving back and forth like he was drunk. Sparks frizzled green across the hat he wore, a wide, homemade contraption that was all tinfoil and clothes hangers and ribbons, a half-collapsed, crash-landed blimp. His long hair crackled. The ends of it lifted out from under the hat, up toward the ceiling. The woman reached over and touched Chundo on the cheek, and a green spark cracked between them.
“Shit, Laurel!” Chundo said, and jumped back.
“Tag,” Laurel said. “You’re it. And watch your mouth.” She turned to look at me. “You are?” She had tired pale eyes and dyed red hair cut short, and she was wearing an old Smith’s T-shirt cut to show her flat stomach and the piercing in her navel. Grapevines in black and green ink climbed up her arms and encircled her throat.
She was older than Chundo and I, somewhere in her early thirties. She took in my pink oxford shirt, the pressed creases in my jeans, the new sleeping bag rolled up by the door. When she turned back to Chundo, I saw Chinese lettering that I couldn’t read low on her back. She was Chundo’s usual type, except for the kid.
“Barnaby,” I said. “Friend from high school.”
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~, Карина Гуринович
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