Chapter 16
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Reality with a Twist

Bradley Sides explores the supernatural in Crocodile Tears Didn’t Cause the Flood

Bradley Sides’ first collection, Those Fantastic Lives, boasts the subtitle And Other Strange Stories, and his sophomore effort continues the theme with more magical realism-packed tales. While Crocodile Tears Didn’t Cause the Flood is a slim book at only 142 pages, it features 17 unique stories with intriguing characters and varied voices.

Photo: Cindy Shaver Photography

Sides explores several structural and narrative techniques in the book. For example, “The Guide to King George” is an epistolary story, told through a letter written by the current keeper of “King George” — an enormous lizard/crocodile that turns into a tourist attraction — to his potential successor. Conversely, “Nancy R. Melson’s State ELA Exam, Section 1: The Dead-Dead Monster” is presented as a written exam, like the essay section of a traditional standardized test, that tells a story about real-life encounters with the “Dead-Dead Monster.”

From every angle, Sides works to keep us on our toes, taking traditional narrative elements and adding an unexpected, supernatural twist. Shooting stars falling to the ground are relatively normal, but Sides’ shooting stars reignite themselves on Earth and launch back into space (“Raising Again”). A man murdering his wife and children, while unfortunate, is no surprise, but the same man claiming his family was not murdered but transformed into moths is unexpected (“The Browne Transcript”). Throughout most every story here, however, is a thread of hope — hope that Detective Murphy will understand that Jonathan Browne did not murder his family, hope that falling stars can rise again, and hope that people will learn not to trust or revere the Dead-Dead Monster. Many of the worlds in Crocodile Tears are depressing, yet many of the characters maintain an almost aggressively positive will to live.

In one of the most intriguing and mysterious stories in the book, “To Take, To Leave,” a man takes in a curious boy during an apocalypse. Yet the boy is no ordinary child. He arrives clad in a searing space suit with a helmet that burns everything it touches. Nevertheless, the man loves this boy whom he can hardly hug and barely talk to through the space suit. Though the story is told from the man’s perspective, Sides utilizes second person throughout, forcing readers to imagine what they would do in such a scenario. In choose-your-own-adventure style, the story probes the reader’s desire to survive, help others survive, and salvage the world. Depending on which narrative you choose to follow, you may not even be able to save yourself:

(1) You were lonely, so you took in the boy. No matter how much you try to justify your role in this whole thing by how much you love him, the apocalypse is your fault.

Speaking of the apocalypse, death is coming, and it’s coming at you fast — so fast that you won’t escape it if you don’t do something. Soon. You better do that something soon.

Sides’ narrative choice creates a natural tension. Though the man and boy are compelling, you are the main character, and it is up to you, immediately, to figure out how to survive and fix the situation.

As David Bersell noted in his Chapter 16 review of Those Fantastic Lives, Sides often “waits as long as possible to reveal exactly how the real communicates with the magical” in his stories. Even in the shortest stories in Crocodile Tears Didn’t Cause the Flood — such as “Our Patches,” which spans just two pages — it is often not until the final paragraphs that we are given all the information we need to piece together the conditions surrounding the characters. Other times, no answers are given and the reader is left to wonder about the circumstances before and after the story’s events. In worlds crammed with the bizarre, the unexpected, and the supernatural, it is the mysteries we cannot answer that continue to keep us up at night.

Reality with a Twist

Abby N. Lewis is from Dandridge, Tennessee. She is the author of the poetry collection Reticent, the chapbook This Fluid Journey, and the newest chapbook Palm Up, Fingers Curled from Plan B Press.