Three-A-Week (4.3): Sam J Miller’s “Allosaurus Burgers”

Published in Shimmer (Issue #20)

(Warning: I’m going to be talking about the story assuming you, my wife or imaginary reader, have read it. Here there be spoilers. Also, these are my rough, rambly thoughts; I make no promises regarding cohesion or concision.)

“Allosaurus Burgers” is one of those stories that sneaks up on a reader. The moment you think you’ve understood that it’s a weird magical realist story about a dinosaur’s effect on this town, it twists and shifts to reveal itself to be a really powerful narrative about a son learning that his mother is a real human being. There’s something really impressive about a story that can present such a profound experience through a seemingly light-hearted perspective/plot. Much of this is accomplished, of course, through the narrator, who is done so, so well. Kids are a difficult perspective to pull off convincingly, especially kids who are in a moment of change or realization. Add to that already tall order a strained and slightly messed up family situation that has really had an effect on the child, and you have Matt, the narrator here. And Sam totally knocks it out of the park. The voice of the story might have been my favorite part.

The pacing of the story seemed rushed to me. I felt like we were only just beginning to get a handle on Matt’s situation and the people around him when the climax of the story came along, and although I could see the emotional climax the story wanted to hit, I wasn’t sure it had totally earned it. This is weird for me to say, because I did feel an emotional reaction to the story and to the ending, but I suspect that has more to do with me projecting my own parental issues onto the story. The story hit my buttons from the first few lines, and I would’ve been on board even if the Allosaurus turned out to be Voldemort in a dinosaur costume.

I really love the subtle way we’re introduced to how inflated Matt’s consideration is of his mother. He narrates some of these problems by mentioning how he forces himself to think of his father the way his mother does or talking about being mad at his sister because of what she’d said about his mother. But then there’s the moment where he sees the dinosaur, which is such a great scene. Matt comes face to face with this creature from another age, a creature of imagination and legend, and his metric for understanding its size and stance is to compare it to his mom. This is the kind of thing that really gave me pause in this story. Matt’s inflated understanding of his mother is so ingrained that even this amazing creature only exists in relation to his equally mythic mother. What a great way to demonstrate the sneaky and sometimes damaging impacts adults can have on the children they care for.

That wraps up Sam’s stories for this week, though the Sam J Miller excitement isn’t over yet! He has very graciously agreed to do a short interview, so look forward to seeing that sometime next week. Hurray!

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