Joanna Ruocco - Pagan Wordplay Delirium

Joanna Ruocco, The Mothering Coven (Ellipsis Press, 2009)

"Without the glue to hold them together, it'll all fall apart. The Mothering Coven tells the story of a house shared by seven women. When one of their own turns up missing, the bond they share is threatened even when presented with something worth celebrating for. - Midwest Book Review
"I’ll dare to call this first novel joycean for its daredevil wordplay. i mean sick. somehow with none of the ego-fluffing look-at-me posturing, it combines the virtuosic vocabulary of a george perec with the referential knowledge of a PHd student in Pagan Studies all written with a style all her own but as iconoclastic and rhythmic as david markson. hopeful and smart. and all brand new. and you should most definitely try it." - Eugene Lim
“Ruocco’s Coven is an engagingly whimsical tale, graceful and inventive, with its own distinctive lexicon, reminiscent of the works of such writers as Ronald Firbank or Coleman Dowell. It toys with language and knowledge somewhat like the emerald-eyed black cat in the book toys with a large bird. Batting it about playfully. Coaxing something new out of it.” - Robert Coover
“Deliriously imagined, The Mothering Coven is a work of wonder. Joanna Ruocco arrives: marvelous, and fully sprung!” - Carole Maso

from The Mothering Coven

"Leaves used to pile on one side of the house, and now they pile on the other. The wind has changed direction. And who is subscribing to all these magazines?

Agnes closes the kitchen window. She checks the herring. No bubbles.

“The oven isn’t even on,” says Agnes.

“It must be a Bismarck,” says Mrs. Borage. “You never cook a Bismarck.”

Mrs. Borage has a logical mind. She sits in her rocking chair, snipping pictures from The Helsinki Winki. The pictures are better than the articles. Mrs. Borage wonders if it is the Finnish language that she finds objectionable.

“Or else I don’t have the patience for very long words anymore,” thinks Mrs. Borage. Mrs. Borage stands up.

“I caught a herring once,” announces Mrs. Borage, “in Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.” Mrs. Borage sits down.

“That felt wonderful,” says Mrs. Borage. It’s settled then; she objects to the Finnish language.

Mrs. Borage picks up her scissors. She is snipping pictures of the Finnish National Hockey Team. Mrs. Borage does not object to Finnish hockey players. Mrs. Borage is about to turn one hundred, but she can still appreciate a Schatzilein.


Agnes folds the laundry—Bertrand’s crimson gambeson—she’s washed it again. Laces, broken. Stuffing coming out. Is that mildew? Agnes looks closer. Death caps have sprouted along the quilting. Pale green diamonds on a crimson field. The sickly yellow fringe, that’s honey tuft, and the leather collar, trompette de morts. Agnes heaves the gambeson back into the dryer drum.

“The tenth, or tithe, is often given to the Imperium,” says Agnes, to no one in particular.

“But we weren’t ten,” says Bryce.

“Agnes, Bertrand, Bryce, Fiona, Dorcas, Hildegard, and Ozark” says Dorcas. “Mrs. Borage, eight.”

Besides, is Europe still the Imperium? There are so many abandoned castles, so many unemployed knights, entire orders in desuetude. The Esoteric Order of Night-Blooming Phlox. The Order of Brücken. The Noble Order of Girdle. The Order of Pussywillow. The Order of Radish.


Bryce has taped Bertrand’s postcards to the refrigerator door, to the microwave door, to the television screen. Now she is coating them with polyurethane. She adds a bit of moss to Lake Nero, to simulate an algal bloom. Over here—silica flakes! They give a badly needed glimmer to the deserts of Poland.

Bryce imagines Bertrand in the deserts of Poland. Will Bertrand see the white and gold Polish eagle? Will she see Queen Wanda the Drowned?

The moss absorbs a good deal of polyurethane. Bryce has a terrible headache. Headaches are always the danger with the plastic arts.


The telephone on the mantel is tiled with mirrors, sunflower seeds, golden nuggets of bee pollen, and, of course, the delicate skins of glue Bryce peels from her fingers, nine whorls and a pollex loop, repeating. Agnes has a sudden urge to pick it up.

“Hello?” says Agnes.

“ZZZZZZZZZ!” says a collective voice. Agnes hangs up, puzzled.

“A dial-tone?” asks Agnes. As far as Agnes knows, the phone has never been connected.

Joanna Ruocco, Man's Companions, Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2010.

"For the characters in Man's Companions, the self is a degraded version of someone else. Fantasy is stymied by performance anxiety. Delayed gratification phones in a last-minute cancellation. The fictions in this collection are mongrel, troubling the genus of story with miscegenations and mutations, and at the heart of the book is the figure of the anima non grata, the unwanted woman, a degraded version of man. Using language by turns digressive, obsessive, overblown, romantic, fickle, and mundane, Man's Companions manipulates feminine tropes and finds a kind of joyous liberty in its proliferation of thwarted affairs and awkward interludes."

"Thirty-one brief, clever tales from the author of The Mothering Coven employ traits from the animal kingdom to underscore absurdities in the human species. “Lemmings,” for example, features a desultory dialogue between two lovers who debate the better “iconic” location to jump from - the Space Needle or the Empire State Building. Some of the stories are longer and more satisfyingly developed, such as the nuttily obtuse “Flying Monkeys,” featuring a rarely intersecting conversation between two women onboard an airplane that reveals how the women--former best friends who happen to sit next to each other--can't stand each other. “Flies” pursues a narrator's meandering thoughts about the baking of a cake, moving from morbid medieval cake-baking rituals through the use of red batter to repel flies to the importance of appearance over taste, as a cake appeals above all to memory: “the way you once imagined some other cake tasting.” Though some selections are, at under a page, simply too short to make an impact, Ruocco's understated humor and irony have a playful, experimental appeal." - Publishers Weekly
"This is a marvelous sequence of linked stories deftly portraying those animals inside of us which long ago tracked down and ate our inner child. A wry book that combines the obsessive music of Lydia Davis and the stripped precision of Muriel Spark, Man's Companions is not to be missed." — Brian Evenson

"Reading this work I imagine what it must have been like for people reading Donald Barthelme for the first time, that fully formed stylist suddenly sprung as if from nothing, this vision or version of the world that is our world and also isn't - it's wonderful and peculiar and radiant and much funnier and maybe a little bit sadder. Each of Ruocco's tales is its own little triumph." —Danielle Dutton
"The prose of Joanna Ruocco’s remarkable debut novel The Mothering Coven is so exuberant and thoroughly enlivening in its contagious and cheeky love for the mutability of language’s meanings that its plot often seemed to serve a subsidiary role to its stylistic rollicks; one could read for sound and linguistic play alone – its rhetorical approach to story seemed a narrative unto itself, and one could enjoy and take from this element of the novel as much – indeed, far more than – one could from practically any other published work out there, contemporary or otherwise. Since reading Ruocco’s new collection of stories, Man’s Companions, I’ve been tempted to return to The Mothering Coven and see whether these two facets – its style and its "substance," that is to say, perhaps erroneously, plot – are quite as easily extricable from each other as the ready fun of the prose alone made it seem to me. Man’s Companions hews to a several few styles, none of them quite what one could call “Ruocco’s own,” if only in the sense that, unlike in The Mothering Coven, her method seems not so immediately and brazenly unique; where The Mothering Coven at times felt like something of a novel as tone poem, the stories in Man’s Companions all seem a more cogent commingling of form and function, each narrative progressing, informing, and slyly abetting their respective needs. I now suspect I had missed a great deal of The Mothering Coven’s virtuosity by believing it, in a sense, to be the singularized alloy of two separate products: a wonderful, funny tale, and an exhibit of stunningly confident and unusual writing. Man’s Companions is something of a corrective to my reading of The Mothering Coven – an entirely unexpected one, as the novel is one of my favorites. But the short story collection commends Ruocco’s abilities as not merely those of a stylistically inventive writer, but as of a thoroughly capable writer whose stylistic chops are no less honed than her narrative, structural, and emotional ones.
Where The Mothering Coven read to me as a kind of sui generis gem, Man’s Companions offers its readers a considerable breadth of influences to apply to its various styles and subject matters. The early Lydia Davis seems not unfairly applicable, as does Amy Hempel, not merely for their separately singular abilities to convey a tremendous amount of information and a great emotional range with an economy of text, but also for the alternately insouciant and piercingly human wit with which they do so. It is this voice that informs the vast majority of the stories in the collection: they are told in the first person and relate the subtleties of its narrator’s quotidian thought processes. Many conclude with minor profundities or alterations that render the preceding text in a new light, casting the lives of their narrators, with a quick and acute nuance, in entirely new emotional territory. This becomes something of a structural crutch for Ruocco, and, after a certain point, many of the stories constructed in this way bleed into each other; it took me some time to become convinced that the stories weren’t connected in a less severely obscurantist manner similar to those of The Book of Disquiet or the untranslated Los cuentos de Juana. “Ugly Ducks,” “Small Sharks,” “Cat,” and “Canary” are perhaps the finest stories within the collection to use this last-sentence-heavy technique, and it’s likely not coincidental that they are also the first four stories of the collection: the style begins to wear after a point, and Ruocco’s stylistic and diegetic expansion later in the collection becomes increasingly welcome, as fine-tuned, effective, and acutely perceptive as each story individually is.
I first read this collection about two months ago; before beginning to reconsider the work for review, I read it again, and found, not entirely unsurprisingly, that I had forgotten many of the stories that fall into this structural camp, or that I had conflated several. The stories prove themselves tremendously ripe for rereading: they are so unassumingly complete that new elements and possibilities emerge with each reading. They are also, particularly when read alone and out of order, great fun. I had largely forgotten ever having read “White Horses” come my second reading; and, upon my second reading – in which I read it separately from the others –, I wondered how forgetting such a funny and observant and subtly imaginative story was possible. The same goes for such marvels as “Flying Monkeys,” “Hart,” and, especially, “Unicorns.”
The reason, I imagine, is that they come in such a quick flurry of other like-minded and stylistically similar – if uniformly perceptive and poignant – stories, and that this renders them artificially interchangeable. The brevity and unpretentious ease of each story makes one feel as though it is entirely possible to breeze through the collection; and it is, but doing so would ensure missing out on a lot. These last-sentence-heavy stories largely hew to the kind of first person narrative story released under a title with a profusion of personal pronouns. The collection is a slow progression, with several hiccups, from this style into other, singularly represented ones. “Represented” seems off-putting, as if these stories were mere pastiche; but each story manages to recall others stylistically while forging an unexpected emotional and narrative path of its own. This is what makes Man’s Companion’s such a revelation: one would imagine, after The Mothering Coven, that Ruocco’s interests were predominantly in the purely verbal; the “corrective” quality of this collection is its proof that her interests are far more inclusive and wide-reaching, that she has a rare ability to fashion wholly believable characters quite quickly and that her understanding of their emotional states is paramount to her. As the collection progresses, the usage of the style of the first stories gradually wanes, reappearing only to upend the conventions initially laid down. And it is the stories that are not told in this style that have stayed with me most, and that I enjoyed most during both readings. “Endangered Species” and “White Buffalo” are to me the most effective stories in the collection; they are two of the best stories I have read in a long time. And they could hardly be more distinct from each other, the former a hilarious, obscured account of record-taking and naming, the latter a broad and painfully funny story of the numerous quotidian problems that beset, to varying degrees, a school and its teachers and administrators. I have read both countless times; I cannot tire of their quiet ingenuity and the fascinated receptiveness Ruocco grants her variously adumbrated and expansive worlds.
Because of the uneven stylistic mixture of the stories within Man’s Companions, the collection feels somewhat cobbled together from the author’s tremendous output; the stories are uniformly wonderful, but their order and form lends them a facility that ultimately does the collection more harm than good: each story demands to be read separately from the others, as a singular entity, but they are arranged with an informality that makes it easy to casually read one after a casual other. That so many focus on characters of varying degrees of obsessiveness, indecision, anxiety, self-consciousness, and idealizing wonder – it would seem important to note that they are largely female, particularly given the implications of the title of the collection, but this implication is as far as Ruocco's exploration of the relationship of women to men goes; furthermore, the female characters are not specifically feminine or primarily representative of notions of femininity; I could relate to many of them more than most male characters of any works in recent memory likely has only to do with the deftness with which Ruocco has created each person – only further lends the stories a conceptual cohesion that I believe just distracts from the collection's strongest qualities: the acuity of its prose, characterizations, and rendering of emotion. But it seems like senseless grousing to focus on such things: we are lucky to have a writer like Ruocco elucidating, examining, and celebrating so much for us, and we are quite fortunate to now have another book that attests to her wide abilities. I cannot wait to read The Mothering Coven again; I imagine it will be as if it were the first time." - Benjamin Gottlieb

"In order to tackle a good literary work, I need to be hungry. And I can usually judge what I’m reading by how it affects that hunger. Sometimes a story collection forces me to set it down after reading a story, too full of images and emotion to continue. Other times, I lightly snack my way through the whole thing. The strength and beauty of the stories in Joanna Ruocco’s Man’s Companions pushed me to devour the entirety of the collection in a few days despite being achingly full from the rich, dense prose.
The title of the collection suggests something encyclopedic in nature—some sort of narrative-based listing of things serving as companions to man. Ruocco titled the stories with names of different animals, a list extending through the narratives of both normal— “Canary,” “Lemmings,” “Frog,” and more fanciful like “Flying Monkeys” and “Unicorns.” These work in subtle ways by using the animals in the stories while examining different facets of society serving as a different sort of companion such as failure, ignorance, or over-confidence in the characters. In “Small Sharks,” an annoyed husband reads imperfect sentences to his wife from a novel about raising humans underwater. She fails to comprehend what makes a sentence imperfect just as the husband fails to picture living underwater. The wife however does not suffer from the same lack of imagination, she thinks, “There would be round windows with a million tons of pitch-black water pressing against them and occasionally small sharks with light-producing organelles in their skin would pass back and forth, leaving milky streamers.” In this brief story, Ruocco captures the divide between a husband and wife through small details as if small sharks fed at their relationship allowing something to open up between them.
The stories, even when they’re quite short—many only a page or two long, attack with an encompassing intensity, raw and piercing, leaving little room for bearings or breath. Ruocco’s lyric prose pulses and resonates. In the dream-like story “Snake,” two friends stop to sleep as they drive through the desert. While out of the car, the narrator observes a flow of bats springing out from crack in a rock “like someone just opened a bat-filled fire hydrant.” Just as these bats flow out—too many to count or control, Ruocco piles on observations and details from her narrator as she thinks about her friend Janie’s snakeskin purse—”It is possible that red snakes exist; they live in the redder rocks of the desert, the red rocks to the south, or else the snakes are from Mars.” The narrator’s thoughts pour from her prose, forcing the reader to react to the onslaught and find a way to adapt.
Though titled with the names of animals, you can’t read the stories looking only for the creature named in the title and the different manifestations that can surface. As in “Snake” where the red snakeskin covered purse, the narrator’s boyfriend’s member, and a translucent dream-snake all show themselves cloaked by the thought of the snake. The title serves as in introduction into the ideas we have about that creature and trigger all the societal, mythic, and unconscious thoughts of that animal. Then Ruocco tells a story apart from but relying on that animal or idea.
In the only story in the collection told by a third person narrator, “White Buffalo,” Ruocco breaks up the narrative with numbered sections. In comparison to the shorter stories, it feels epic, covering a cast of quirky characters that run an elementary school. Many of the sections follow Ms. Mencken as she interacts with co-workers at the school and cares for her ailing father at home, who is still abusive even at an advanced age. Ruocco constructs absurd characters, such as the body-building principal talking of his negative space white buffalo tattoo, that come to resemble reality more closely than traditional fiction. For instance, after Principal Baxter assumes his position, he runs out of a meeting with the teachers and tears a drinking fountain from the wall, saying “There will be no more stooping to the level of children [. . .] I have ordered a water cooler for the Teachers-Lounge.” No principal behaves like that, but he might think of doing it and, in the exaggeration of his and other characters, Ruocco demonstrates not only how strange humanity is but also what happens when people allow their veils of politeness to fall. She pointedly examines what sits underneath those veils, divorcing characters from our ideas of falsity and societal mores.
In “Marzipan Lambs,” a woman interacts with the owner of a bakery, both of them losing or having lost their mothers. The two rely on each other for strength. The baker gives her a marzipan lamb week for her mother and she takes it even though the mother has passed. These lambs fill her fridge at home, drying out over time. The narrator can’t bring herself to tell him as she knows that their mutual struggle helps him to deal with his mother back in Italy, asking to go with the angels.
Powerful and compact, the stories, like marzipan lambs must be broken down slowly even if devoured quickly. Like those dried ears of marzipan lambs, they must to sucked on and wondered at before they dissolve into understanding. The story collection presents short tales that pleasantly sated my hunger. Yet, every time I set the book down or even closed the cover, I had to go back for more, unable to tear myself completely away. These stories by Ruocco necessitate time and re-reading, making this short volume well worth exploration." - Kevin Kane

"Joanna Ruocco’s newest short-story collection is a keen manipulation of ordinary experiences into strange, funny, lovely, uncomfortable truths. “Chipmunk,” for instance, features a narrator who ponders her insecurities and then reflects on the absurdity of relationships: “I know that with my eyes shut I could kiss a whole parade of men and never guess the difference, even if one of them was my brother.”
The essence of Ruocco’s story collection is the afflicted woman, burdened by expectations of society, men, and self. But what’s wonderfully absent are clamoring feminist platitudes. In the same story, the narrator rouses herself from her daydream, which has since shifted to being a mother: “It’s dismal to think about this now, when I’m old enough to have had my own children,” she says. “Mothers don’t trust childless grown women. They don’t want us in their homes. They prickle around us, supposing that we are desperate creatures, or else guided by unnatural impulses. They look at us like we might steal their babies.”
Imagination saturates reality in Man’s Companions; time is suspended as characters dip into hypotheticals. In “Snake,” the narrator and her best friend take a road trip through the desert and discuss possibilities. In the present, they escape to imagination, and in their dreams, they slip back to a former reality. Even when threatened by a deadly snake, the narrator is mentally elsewhere: “If I met a man from the land of snow, an Eskimo man, I would take him to the desert and show him bats and star fruits and gold, things he’d never seen and he’d desire me.” Time slopes as fantasy and reality bleed into each other, but you’re anchored to the story, to its lyricism and the thematic circularity traced throughout. Still, each story differs widely from the last—in character, length, tone—and Ruocco is consistently inventive. She tilts the world as we know it, challenging our senses.
With stories that average just a couple of pages, the brevity of Ruocco’s pieces makes it easy to zip through them—don’t. Don’t even read them in sequence. Each will stand alone, and will probably stand taller that way. Man’s Companions manifests a space between the real and surreal, as though the characters occupy worlds too raw and unapologetic to be true, and yet they feel as though they must be." - Hana Park


Joanna Ruocco, Dan, Dorothy, A Publishing Project, 2014.

Read an excerpt from the book at The Collagist

Melba Zuzzo, erstwhile innocent of the male-heavy hamlet of Dan, a town located in the foothills of . . . somewhere? . . . finds herself in a rut. In fact she was probably born into this rut, but today, for some reason, she feels suddenly aware of it. Everything is changing, yet nothing is making sense. The people she might rely upon, the habits she should find comforting—everything is off. It’s as if life, which has gone by largely unnoticed up to now, has been silently conspiring against her the whole time.
In Dan, Joanna Ruocco has created a slapstick parable that brings together the restless undercurrents and unabashed campiness of Thomas Pynchon with the meandering imaginative audacity of Raymond Roussel. Either Dan is a state of mind, beyond the reach of any physical map, or else it sits on every map unnoticed, tucked beneath the big red dot that tells us you are here.

“Joanna Ruocco is very funny and very serious and very smart and very curious and very good at making stories that map the unmappable wrinkles of the mind.” - laird hunt

A young woman becomes increasingly aware of authority—and the urge to push back against it—in this linguistically free-wheeling and challenging novel.
Ruocco doesn’t engage in wordplay so much as she performs a gut rehab on vocabulary, reshaping the meanings of words and testing new resonances within a familiar narrative structure. In broad outline, this is a coming-of-age story centered on Melba, who lives in the small town of the book’s title working as a clerk in a bakery. Over the course of the story, she ponders time’s passing and talks with various controlling figures in her life—her mother, a policeman, a doctor, her school principal, her landlord and so on. Melba asks questions; the responses she receives are generally encouragements to acquiesce. But that plot sketch doesn’t capture the surreal quality of Ruocco’s sentences. “He said you have a kind of bleak power over people, that you turn men into stalagmites, but you don’t stay with them for long,” Melba is told. “You break into a stream of bats and rush away.” Sensible? Not exactly. But the emotional pitch of the sentences is clear, and if the novel is occasionally opaque, Ruocco has given serious thought to how much she can do with language while still preserving a story’s integrity. Ruocco suggests that Melba is trying to bring wisdom to a community that resists it—in one moment, Melba imagines resting against a rock and, Prometheus-like, being pecked at by birds. If you’re willing to submit to their weirdness, Ruocco’s sentences send off sparks: “Have you ever discovered voles in your pillowcasings?” “It tasted like when, as a child, she had mashed anchovy in the wall socket and licked the wall socket on all fours.” Modernist-style experimentation ain’t dead yet.
Giddy, intriguing stuff from a writer eager to let words misbehave. - Kirkus Reviews

Joanna Ruocco is a word wonder maker and in Ruocco’s newest novel, Dan (due out from Dorothy, A Publishing Project Oct. 1st) she has managed to not only build unbelievable structures with words but to also build an actual city. This city is Dan. And it is a place we have been before. Or maybe we haven’t. It’s a place shoved so far back into the recesses of the mind that only through reading her words do we realize that those feelings, the emotions she constructs, are already within. Reading Dan is like having a bot worm medically expelled from your body. You suspected there was something wrong, something in you that wasn’t right, and by mysterious ways of medical linguistics Ruocco has not only identified the parasite, but found it in the deep recesses of your soul and pulled it out through your tear ducts for you to see and examine. Or perhaps reading Dan is more like the act of having your ears cleaned. With each page a tube is stuck deeper within your drum and Dan mounts, pushing warm alien water into your skull, pulling out chunks of orange gunk so big you end up questioning your true size. I conceived my ear canal to be X size. But, my god, my ear canal is triple X. And dear lord can I hear better. After reading Dan you’ll hear things in the way you speak, in the way others speak, that you simply did not hear before.
Within the narrative many of these linguistic nuggets come by way of male characters giving of prescriptive advice. Our protagonist’s father, Zeno Zuzzo, looks over at a group of loitering ladies and warns: 
“Do you see the ears?…Those women are conspiring, always conspiring. Why else would they need ears so close to their mouths? They’re whispering things to themselves, Melba. They’re stirring themselves up.”
These bizarre, otherworldly observations are gifted to us throughout. They are occurrences that could only take place in Dan, or are perhaps what make up Dan itself.
Thus Ruocco leads us inside ourselves by way of location. Dan is a small male-heavy hamlet in the middle of somewhere. The residents of Dan know of nowhere. Or maybe there is nowhere else. Some residents do leave, but they don’t so much leave as disappear. Our charismatic protagonist, Melba Zuzzo, for a period of time thought Dan was island. And maybe it is. Or maybe isn’t. In Dan, things are turned not upside down, but sideways, just tilted enough so we can recognize them. The only other female we meet in Dan is Melba’s mother, Gigi Zuzzo, who tirelessly requests the absurd. Melba, did you have the hair on your forearms removed? When was the last time you went shopping? Gigi Zuzzo says, Melba you do not shop enough and this will be the end of you. How else is one to expand their horizons except by way of consumerism? The conversations that Melba has with Gigi, like all the conversations Melba has, are at once absurd but intimately familiar. Have I had this conversation with my mother before? Yes. Did she ask me to remove the hair from my forearms? No. But everything else was the same. The cadence, the rhythm, the sudden carping turn. It’s like Ruocco has been eavesdropping on me and my mother my entire life, and given my conversations back to me in Dan, de-familiarizing them just enough for me to recognize them.
And this effect is extremely funny. Melba’s conversations and the way they turn to a place you know and then turn to a place you forgot you knew elicit not only self-recognition but laughter. In the middle of the book you’ll find yourself pointing to your own chest and giggling, thinking, oh God, I have had that conversation and I am a fool.
And you won’t just see yourself in the dialogue. You’ll recognize people you know in the residents. We meet Dr. Buck, the creepy town doctor; Randal Hans, Melba’s questionably unintelligent contemplative ex; Officer Greg, a well meaning albeit accusatory policeman; and Don Pond, the smitten “first customer of the day” at the bakery in which Melba labors. But perhaps the most entertaining character that circles around Melba is Mark Rand, Melba’s landlord. In Dan, landlords are not the scum we know them to be, but rather selfless social workers who provide shelter to those unable to buy their own homes. They are figures worthy of the utmost societal respect. Mark, as Melba’s mother points out, is over worked and underpaid and we have to be thankful that there are people in the world like Mark who are willing to give themselves to such a selfless career as property management. Thus Mark and Melba’s interactions provide such hilarious satire, such merciless glee and overall sagacity that I would urge you to read Dan if, for none of its other fabulous qualities, simply to be able to better humor the sadistic trial that is retrieving your apartment’s security deposit.
But the thing about Ruocco, and specifically about Dan, that will cut open your heart and splay it wide is the language. The words Ruocco chooses are a specially curved knife that awakens realities previously unseen. Like a skeleton key Ruocco has found combinations to unlock more doors then we knew we had. If for nothing else, read Dan for the sentences, and the way the words rub up against each other, placed so perfectly that you know they could not have otherwise been arranged.
- Rita Bullwinkel

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