I’m an avowed Welsh fan. I’ve read almost all of his stuff, and if you pair that my penchant for, well, basically, novels about drifters and fuck-ups, I would say I’m a pretty good judge of his abilities. That being said, while his star certainly has not reached its apogee, he is taking his sweet old time getting there. If You Liked School, You’ll Love Work is a collection of literary toys. While his first collection, The Acid House challenged, terrified and reviled, the short stories in this collection will likely leave you with a noncommittal shrug. Not to say it isn’t a fun collection, but it is a collection of toys. Not quite the stuff you would put on the mantelpiece. If you’re looking for something akin to the slender perfection of “A Perfect Day For Bananafish” or “Hills Like White Elephants”, you won’t find it here. Welsh came close to that mark years ago with his cerebral Acid.
“Rattlesnakes”, the first entry, is a page out of Palahniuk’s laziest gross-out writings. The characterization is just as bland as the character cliches employed. The tension builds with all the subtlety of a magnesium flare, and Welsh’s love of loose-string and ambiguous endings leaves an ashy taste in your mouth.
“If You Liked School, You’ll Love Work”, the titular entry, is a fairly lighthearted snippet, entertaining but not elevating. It feels more like a character exercise, or a left-over scrap from one of Welsh’s more developed works. All the standards of Scottish wise-guys are present- constant hunting for sex, dodging of responsibility and acting irrationally (and not only when completely shitfaced). Still, it’s a bit of a nostalgiac joy to see the Scottish dialect in print again.
“The DOGS of Lincoln Park” was built around a few clumsy and undeveloped plot twists, and it’s not challenge to figure out how to feel about the protagonist, an upper-crusty Manhattanite with little to no understanding of the intricacies (or simplicities). It was as irritating to read at times as it would be actually knowing such a character, but then, that is likely the driving point.
“Miss Arizona” was almost there. It was almost at that, sinister, paranoia-inducing level, but it sadly fizzles, due to a lack of development in the other characters and really poor pacing. The end will make you want to throw the book across the room, and it’s a good one. But Welsh could have taken a few notes from old school Gothic, rather than trying to reinvent it with a somewhat pork-laden fist.
“Kingdom of Fife”. How do I feel about a story whose protagonist bears my namesake and is a pervert and a drunken asshole? Pretty good, actually. If anyone can redeem the bottom of the barrel, it’s Welsh. Any doubters need to pick up Marabou Stork Nightmares and marinate on exactly how much we, as individuals, as a culture, judge people, and what that can do to people. Not that this is a preachy, inherent goodness of humanity trip- Welsh would never do that. What he does so masterfully is create convincing characters in need of a second chance, then he almost psychically persuades the reader that the character deserves that chance. Welsh goads you into rooting for people you would rather spit on at first glance. For as much as I enjoyed the story, however, it felt, like much of the collection, undercooked. I wanted more, and more could have been done with this. Hopefully, Skag, a full novel in the works, will give me the drug I crave.
This book is more for the Welsh monks rather than novices, and you should ignore anything on the cover of the book (a silly lesson we all seem to have to re-learn periodically), because, yeah, it will get you pumped up for a Welsh Odyssey, but this ain’t it. If you’ve never read Welsh, pick up Crime or, of course, Trainspotting, and come back later. You might be disappointed when you get to School, but you’ll love the work it took to get there.