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Acts of a Dubious Nature: A Collection of Short Stories
Tony Canino, author
In Acts of a Dubious Nature, Tony Canino casts a fresh voice and a baleful eye on the many affronts and trespasses that human beings both suffer and inflict. An abused elder who’ll protect his dead son’s memory at any cost, an honest fighter forced to throw a fight, a man recalling his many sins as his parachute fails, a sailboat full of reprobates burying a German admiral at sea, and a rancher with the darkest of secrets. Axel, Lickety, “Don” Carmine, Aunt Mavis, Bee Boy, Lucky the Space Alien - all part of a cast unlike any you’ve ever met. Acts of a Dubious Nature: funny, heartbreaking, honest, utterly unpredictable – the perfect read for anybody who prefers the literary road less traveled.
Balancing the cynical with the compassionate in this eclectic debut collection, Canino weaves a common thread of protagonists facing impossible decisions throughout. In “Holy Sacred Icons,” an elderly man dependent on his abusive niece as a caregiver turns to a desperate act in order to preserve his son’s memory, while a socialite is willing to do whatever it takes to get the one free murder she was promised after saving a hit man's life in “Pound of Flesh.” Canino emphatically portrays his characters and their struggles without sugarcoating their ultimate choices, delicately mirroring the real-life challenge of maintaining integrity in gritty situations.

Canino goes on to highlight different shades of honor when he examines a boxer urged to throw a match by his manager in “Inappropriate Touching.” When the story culminates with his trainer, aptly named Lickety, stepping in to take matters into his own hands, readers will find Lickety’s advice that evil often wins while “good stares at its shoes, like a witness afraid to come forward” both jarring and wise. Canino takes on the sometimes-toxic nature of romance as well, by spotlighting a couple unable to heal the fractures in their relationship in “One to Nothing” and pinpointing the lengths a man is willing to go to in order to impress the woman he loves in “The Way to a Woman’s Heart.”

Despite some general similarity in theme, Canino’s stories offer distinctly varied worlds and styles. The strongest among them radiate ambiguity, allowing readers to form their own judgments, and Canino is careful to infuse warmth and humor where needed: “Morris’s last-ever worry was not about whether God could forgive him, but whether Allie could. Or either one of the Lindas. Women could be hard that way, he thought. Harder than God.” This lightness keeps the jagged edges and moral murkiness less bleak.

Takeaway: A cutting reflection on the ambiguous side to human nature.

Great for fans of: Lauren Groff's Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories, Julie Orringer's How to Breathe Underwater.

Production grades
Cover: B-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: NA
Editing: B-
Marketing copy: C