Jason Ockert | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jason Ockert 

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Reading Jason Ockert's debut collection, Rabbit Punches (Low Fidelity), is like getting lost on a road trip: you start off fine, following your map, but still somehow wind up in a place you never saw coming. Populated with earnest characters in mainly small-town and southern settings (Ockert was born in Indiana and raised in Florida), the 13 stories are quirky and unsettling, full of unexpected turns. In "Infants and Men" a dictionary salesman promoted to lexicographer has an affair with his boss's wife. He gets amnesia after she kicks him out of a tree house but for decidedly base reasons remains in his boss's family's care; the dialogue of the vocabulary-loving characters is especially funny. In "Some Storm" a young man is trying to find a suitable husband for his pregnant sister. He figures whoever can knock him off a hill in a fight would do, though those who show up to try leave plenty to be desired: "some fathers already, a dog-catcher, a few haggard boys, alcoholics, Uncle Tim." Other stories involve a peanut salesman who becomes a Bible hawker after arm wrestling "a man who may have been Jesus," a golf course mower passing himself off as a toad photographer to land a National Geographic Society gig, and an awkward boy acting on his infatuation with a girl at an annual scarecrow contest. Ockert's characters seem to be longing for someone or something, and while you really pull for them to attain it, they all fall . . . just . . . short. Mon 5/15, 7 PM, Quimby's, 1854 W. North, 773-342-0910.

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