They say you must never judge a book by its cover, but some books like to bend the rules, and Strange Medicine is certainly one of the game-changers. Its simple yet wacky stories are oddly brave; I don’t think I would dare send such raw weirdness out for the world to read, so kudos to Mike Russell for his daredevil writing.
The title sums up the book perfectly; it’s a quirky little collection of short stories, some of which are very (wonderfully) odd indeed. I enjoyed reading these tales, not because they gave me any great epiphany or revealed deep secrets about the meaning of life, but because they were funny and charming. Mike Russell seems to have mastered the art of throwing absurdities onto paper, but keeping his writing bright and interesting at the same time.
The stories vary in length, detail and style, with topics ranging from mysterious mime suicides to a famous professor who seems to be missing something from his otherwise glamorous lifestyle. My personal favourite was Telephone, a series of six phone conversation transcripts between a woman, a man, and a telephone (or one of the two pretending to be a telephone). Not much is resolved from the start to the end of the story, but it entertained me because it seemed to be a sarcastic reality check displaying how much we communicate with our significant others over the phone, and how little actually gets said in these conversations. The amount of times “I love you” was said to the wrong person during the five-page story just appeared to mock how easily some of us commit to relationships, thanks to the convenience of mobiles. Either that, or it was just a bit of fun to highlight how three is most definitely a crowd.
I’m sure some (if not all) of the stories in this collection have significance and valuable lessons embedded in them somewhere, but I tried not to read too much between the lines for the most part because I was just enjoying reading these tales of pure fantasy. The world in which Mike Russell writes holds no boundaries; you learn from around page eleven to expect just about anything. This includes a man of the highest intelligence has no brain and a girl who experiences the presumably uncomfortable sensation of having a fish grow out of her right shoulder. Yes, you read that right. A fish.
Even if this book isn’t sounding like your cup of tea, I’d really recommend giving it a go – 140 pages is not much to get through and the style is so concise and efficient that it’s a pleasant and easy read. The blurb:
“We recommend the following prescription: Strange Medicine. Weird and wonderful stories for all that ails you.”
Seriously, take the doctor’s advice. You never know, the wackiness between those pages might just kick your writer’s block or send you a much needed message through a nutty metaphor.