Finding Beauty in an Ugly World: Abby Sheaffer reviews Joseph G. Peterson’s darkly beautiful short story collection Twilight of the Idiots

Twilight of the Idiots by Joseph G. Peterson has characters so alive and potent, their psyches marinate in your bones for weeks after you finish the book. Peterson’s searing new short story collection oscillates between dark humor and startling revelations.

“Romance and Respect”, the collection’s first short story, follows a young woman named Connie as she engages in pillow talk with her boyfriend, Sid. Peterson expertly uses fractal storytelling to have the audience experience the bizarre evening Connie had with a guy named Mario during one of her low points. Very simply, yet very precisely, Peterson puts us in Connie’s place as she rejects Mario’s advances. It’s impossible not to get emotionally wound-up by the end of the story, and the reader finds great comfort that the story ends where it began, and though he plays only a minor role, Sid is a strong supporting character in his passivity.

“The Godvoice”, while strong in many aspects, doesn’t hold up to its counterparts in the collection. It’s very quotable, and the rookie cop at the heart of the story is very intriguing but nevertheless a bit static. It is, nevertheless, worth a read, as the universe that Peterson has created for his characters emboldens the entire collection of stories.

The surrealistic atmosphere of “Jacob’s Cheek” makes it hard to put down. Sibling rivalry comes to a supernatural head when sparring brothers Jacob and James (or “Jimmy” to his friends) recount their days together before James drowned on the Edmond Fitzgerald following a night of debauchery. Jacob, we learn, has always felt second best to his big brother James. Peterson writes James as a sort of egotistical monster, while Jacob is shrunk to the size of a dust mite. Of course, the revelation that it was all in Jacob’s mind makes the story all the more intriguing.

“…but the country club, like all country clubs, wasn’t part of this world. It was its own make-believe kingdom and quite a bit of effort had been put into maintaining this illusion.” That, along with many other passages, makes “Golfer’s Bog” such an incredible short story. One might argue, “Golfer’s Bog” is Peterson storytelling at its finest. I had a great amount of fun reading the story that details a caddie’s life and death at a corrupt country club in Wheeling, Illinois, and I have an inkling Peterson had fun writing it. It’s a dark story but told with a sort of rich, inky obsidian light. Peterson plays off the idea of beautiful things enmeshed with rotten decay so elegantly you’ll want to read this story again and again.

This short story collection is a unique ode to the glimmer of beauty in the ugliness of the world. Peterson shows his strengths as a writer with Twilight of the Idiots, and the reader will walk away from the experience with a different perspective of the world, which, as any reader knows is a sign of a successful book.

4/5 stars 

 Twilight of the Idiots


 Joseph G. Peterson


 (1st edition) May 18th, 2015

 226 pages