“Welcome Thieves” by Sean Beaudoin is a collection of 12 short stories that revel in philosophy, music and violence to produce images portraying the human struggle with meaning in contemporary life.
The character-driven tales are darkly comedic, filled with misfits like Primo and The Albatross, Danny and Steak, Sad Girl, Razr and Roy Boi, and Butterfly and Cher — characters so compelling that they are at once savage and powerless, redemptive and sardonic.
In “The Rescues,” a brutal lacrosse player named Danny the destroyer takes every dare and hits harder than anyone he encounters on the field, only to meet his match in Cossack, a player on an opposing team.
In a scene of raucous violence, Cossack inflicts an injury on Danny’s leg that leaves the daredevil protagonist forever out of the game. Danny takes a job as a delivery boy, dealing pizza along with drugs that he acquires from an emergency room nurse.
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His life changes when he helps a girl who calls herself Steak when her car breaks down on the side of the road. She tells him later that she is empathic and that he overpowers her best resistances because of his deep need, his emotional rather than physical destructive force.
The series’ titular tale, “Welcome Thieves,” comes at the end of the collection and epitomizes the theme of redemption through destruction that Beaudoin wields so powerfully.
Adam is caught between the vengeance of a stolen-goods dealer named Bruce Parsley and a new love interest named, fittingly, Eve. Just as Parsley begins to hunt Adam down for losing money on a deal gone wrong involving stolen electronics, Eve takes Adam on a road trip to attend her estranged sister’s wedding.
Back home, his apartment is emptied and destroyed even as his hopes with Eve are dawning. He tells us in the end, “All you really need in life is one friend.”
In “Hey Monkey Chow,” Dillard and Cher are brother and sister with a complicated relationship that unfolds after their mother (Dillard’s biological, Cher’s adoptive) dies.
When Cher, her husband, Butterfly, and Dillard, drive to Tucson to bury Dillard’s mother, it is revealed that Dillard and Cher were in love as children, that she waited for him when she came back into town, and that she threw herself into marriage with Butterfly as a form of self-destruction.
Dillard tells us after she kisses him against his mother’s coffin, “I wipe the lipstick from my chin, thinking it’s weird how almost everyone does the worst thing, every time. Gives in to their essential natures without thought or complaint. Our little brains suckered by the first shiny thing. And then, when we have a chance not to be, a real and obvious chance to prove we’re actually half-human, still f--- it up.”
These characters and more fill the pages of “Welcome Thieves,” their complexities and frailties enough to recommend Beaudoin as a student and brilliant interpreter of human nature.
He writes with pathos of the misfit characters and their travails. They struggle and think deeply while encountering hardships, and rise in the end to places that may not be traditional but seem right for them.
Katie Conely is an intern from the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s master of arts in English literature program.
Welcome Thieves: Stories, by Sean Beaudoin (304 pages; Algonquin Books; $15.95, paperback)