Book Review: what if i got down on my knees? by Tony Rauch

what if i got down on my knees? by Tony Rauch

what if i got down on my knees? by Tony Rauch

I really enjoyed Tony Rauch’s previous collection of short stories, eyeballs growing all over me …again. It was a strong collection of whimsical and strange stories with a science fiction thread running through it. When I saw that Rauch had released a new collection, I asked for a review copy of what if i got down on my knees?

Unlike eyeballs growing all over me …again, the connections between the stories aren’t by style. In fact, the variety of types of stories is one of the strong points of this collection. There are instances of the whimsical science fiction stories like from Rauch’s previous collection, but there are also outright absurd comic tales, magic-realist stories, experimental prose poems and even some Raymond Carver-esque realism. The connection between the stories is that they all deal with love, longing and loneliness.

My favorite story in the collection is one of the examples of Carver-esque realism. “I used to know her” deals with a young man coming of age and his feelings for a girl named Debra.

Sitting in the sun of the bus, I could feel her in the morning wind. And gradually I could feel my future rushing in that wind. More and more I feel it rushing to me, rushing right past me in a blur. Sometimes I feel it burning so fast I can’t think. Sometimes it feels like it’s rushing right through me, like I’m turning into a ghost. I feel the next month in that wind. And I feel the month after that, and the month after that one too, all rushing by so fast.

Debra eventually leaves the small town they live in for college. The young man hates being without her, but he can’t stand the idea of leaving. He needs permanence so much that he can’t tear himself away from his hometown. His hometown still denies him the permanence he craves.

A club just burned down–a mystical place people used to gather at and meet other people–a place people shared, a place people like me dreamed of going. And now they’re bulldozing it over. They’re tearing it all down, rearranging everything. Can’t they just leave well enough alone?

This passage really resonated with me. When I see a place in my city close down or get destroyed, I always feel a hint of sadness. Even if I had no connection to the place. It was fine there. Why do you have to go changing things around?

Another favorite of mine is the magic-realist story “congratulations.” A man standing at a bus stop meets a mysterious stranger who offers to help relieve the pain he’s feeling. He ends up pulling a tiny baby out of the man.

He lowers his palms form me to see. Inside his hands is a tiny wiggling baby. I look to my side. There is a tiny wiggling baby. I look to my side. There is a little hole there, just a pinprick, with some pinkness around it, like a bug bite. I look over to the man, then down to his outstretched arms, reaching to offer the baby to me.

Out of the man’s pain and anxiety, something beautiful and new has formed. I read this story as an allegory for writing. It seems like a more lighthearted and subtle telling of the same themes of this Stephen Crane poem.

Many red devils ran from my heart
And out upon the page,
They were so tiny
The pen could mash them.
And many struggled in the ink.
It was strange
To write in this red muck
Of things from my heart.

“hooray for all the children” is a humorous horror story that reads like a more playful Bentley Little piece. A boy nicknamed froggy was subjected to constant mockery and torture by other children. He grows up and becomes very successful in the concrete business. Many of froggy’s old schoolmates begin dying mysteriously or having their possessions destroyed. The narrator wakes up one morning to find his front and back lawn both paved over completely. Despite the destruction of his property, he can’t help but find the work amazing.

I can’t recall if I ever did anything to poor old froggy–perhaps I did, or maybe I did not. But I was there and that was enough for me. Hooray, I say. Hooray for all the children, for we have taught one another well.

The weakest pieces in the collection are most of the experiential prose poems. In some of them, like “the idiot’s guide morons,” Rauch manages to pack some real punch.

shadows can be nice, a quiet place no one can bother you, an accomplishment if you can figure out how to blend in, but they can also be a trap, a cage, limiting your progress, and if you can find a way to turn that dichotomy on and off, then you’ve really mastered something.

However, most of the formal “tricks” don’t add to the pieces. In fact, in most of them the run-on sentences and pointless repetition just distract from the characters and their emotions, which in every other piece is at the center.

One story I didn’t enjoy at all is “the new neighbors,” where a man falls in love with a woman who moves in next to him. It’s hard for me to pinpoint what I didn’t like in it. It’s just a story that didn’t resonate with me.

Overall, what if i got down on my knees? is a strong collection of short fiction that didn’t disappoint me at all. Fans of science fiction will probably get more out of eyeballs growing all over me …again, but I highly recommend this one to fans of short stories in general. Check out some of the samples up on Tony Rauch’s site if you still need some convincing.


4c4iIXqDBen Arzate lives in Des Moines, Iowa. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Ugly Babies, Bizarro Central, Spoilage, The Mustache Factor, Twenty Something Press, and Keep This Bag Away From Children. He blogs at

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