The stories in Double Bird carry you like a giant fucking eagle with a beak large enough to swallow a missile and talons that could crush your nagging mother’s skull.
Double Bird is about people trying desperately to connect but finding themselves isolated, and it’s about people trying to detach themselves even as they’re inescapably tethered to one another. It’s about people who want to be touched and seen. The unassuming horror of the stories is that once anyone is touched they turn to ash, and once they’re seen they disappear.
The sentiment weaved throughout the collection suggests that the world is a familiar place. The world is opening its arms to you at every moment and begging you to notice. Also, the world might run you over with a car or throw a Roman Candle through your window and into your hamper full of dirty clothes, but please don’t get mad at the world, it can’t help it.
“Here’s what I learned, overall—everyone just wants what they want but it’s all ambiguous, even to them, no one really knows what they want, they just long for it, and it is invisible and takes no form.”
Bud Smith’s prose is unapologetically odd. His brand of unadorned realism retains no fidelity to reality. And the writing is funny—not funny in the way authors sometimes try to be funny as a literary technique, but funny in a “flicking the balls of a naked firefighter air freshener” way. Or funny in a “RIP Bud Smith, 35 yrs. old, he died tragically holding his breath because he had the goddamn hiccups” kind of way. The stories are enjoyable and inviting without coddling the reader or pandering in the slightest; the voice is singular and unflinching. Double Bird is funny and, as the stories progress, the humor is increasingly tragic.
There’s a quality to all of Bud’s writing that feels autobiographical. Even when he’s finding babies in a parking lot, or when his junkie girlfriend has tigers running through her veins, or when the police throw him through the plate glass window of a porno shop
—there’s a part of you that wonders: I don’t know, maybe Bud knows some people with tigers in their veins.
It’s not the content of the stories that suggest autobiography, it’s the broader sense of careful reflection embodied in them. Good fiction demands an author interrogate his memories and try imagining what it must have been like to experience those memories. The results are strange amorphic representations of the way things happened, the way they felt at the time. And when this happens in Double Bird it feels as though the author was present and effected by every unbelievable occurrence.
I think I love Bud Smith’s stories so much because they’re the sort of stories people I grew up with would enjoy. And most folks I grew up with didn’t (and presumably still do not) give a shit about literature. About half of the time I think that’s fine, their loss, and I stop giving a shit about them. The other half of the time I think it’s a shame that writer’s today are making so much noise that so few people can understand.
Regardless of whether or not the people from my neighborhood are going to read it (and they most definitely are not), I get excited when I find writing that feels important, while remaining genuinely enjoyable. It’s nice also, because this sort of writing isn’t trying to prove itself or coerce the reader into validating the importance of the text.
It’s probably because Bud Smith doesn’t have a BA or an MFA. He isn’t teaching literature or creative writing at a high school or university. He grew up at a campsite in New Jersey, works heavy construction in Jersey City, and does much of his writing on his cell phone.
It’s almost as if an artistic mind immersed in the world is better able to transform and interrogate the world than if he were lifted out of it. But, then again, it could just be that Bud is good with words and has a keen ability to remember his dreams.
“I remembered a magazine article that said there is a 40 million to 1 chance of ever being born.
After all that struggle, you’d think we’d be kinder to each other once we’re here.
Tonight, finally the radiators are silent.
Finally, I’ve forgiven everyone who’s trespassed against me.”
Stephen Mortland lives and writes in Central Indiana. You can find him and his work online @stephenmortland.