The notion that truth is stranger than fiction takes a firm hold of you in the form of the 300 police logs collected in the book Checked Out OK by Corwin Ericson. The majority of the honest-and-true police reports were gathered from The Amherst Bulletin, a newspaper the small Massachusetts town it takes its name from. The logs are fascinating, especially when you see so many of them in one sitting, because the reader gets a glimpse into the oddities that occur each day in the small town. Each log comes across as a very minor occurrence, and most of them feel as if there was really no need to report the incidents, but that is part of what makes them so interesting. The fact that the police have to log these reports is fascinating because there are so many that are steeped somewhere between paranoia and boredom.
Here are some examples:
• 5:11 p.m.-A man who parked his vehicle near the police station and put on a pair of gloves when he exited checked out OK.
• 1:44 p.m.-Six adults whom an observer said were on the ground and making moaning sounds at Towne-house Apartments checked out OK.
• 2:24 p.m.-A strange-looking animal on Plumtrees Road was gone when Police got there.
• 6:25 p.m.-A call was made reporting that a duck near the campus pond had not moved in three or four days. An officer responded and determined that the duck in question was a wooden duck.
Reading only a few of these does not do much justice to the book. It is necessary to absorb a lot of them in one sitting to truly gather the tone and connections within the town. The great part of this collection is watching the puzzle pieces come together to display a snapshot of the town itself. Readers quickly realize the volume of mundane, and often unnecessary, calls that the police must respond to. The number of situations that “checked out ok” is baffling, and exemplifies not only the care and diligence the Amherst Police Department must have, but also their dedication to a job that directly reacts to the needs of the citizens. And through this the book becomes a wonderful portrait of a town of citizens that care very much about the safety and security of one another, and a police force that responds to any and all calls.
There is great fun in the book considering the work Ericson has done to analyze each log and separate them into the proper category. There is a sense of glee that comes from this book that Ericson subtly displays in his categories. Checked Out OK is wonderful and unique, and something worth skimming through at breakfast before heading out for the day because potential police logs may become noticeable in what you witness every day. Life’s subtle quirks become more obvious after being exposed to this hilarious book, and much is owed to Ericson for his help in displaying life with this different perspective.
~Reviewed by Randall Lahrman
Corwin Ericson is an MFA graduate of UMass Amherst and the former managing editor of the Massachusetts Review. His fiction has appeared in Harper’s, the Believer, jubilat, and Fence. His first novel Swell was published in 2011.