This is actually a collection of short stories that are nevertheless joined together by odd turns of phrase or repeated names here and there. And all with an elegant smartness that bespeaks good writing technique. Never predictable with a host of three-dimensional characters in each story, the collection moves at a brisk pace, sometimes using odd literary devices that should be off-putting (like the notes of a private investigator in the second story, set in a single column down the middle of succeeding pages).
In “Witnesses,” a ten-year-old black boy is brutally murdered, and the killer, a drifter, is himself later killed in a bar fight. But that subplot is not the main thrust of the story. Instead, it’s the interplay of other characters tangential to the plot that really carries the narrative. Then, in two subsequent chapters, echoes of underlying themes weave their way into different subplots, finally emerging as a connected whole.
A memorable passage from the first story, chapter three, about a robbery gone bad in a Dollar Mart:
“It was run by a guy named Mahmoud, an Iraqui who had helped the Yanks out during Desert Storm and was rewarded with a family-sized green card.”
And another: “After all she had gone through, Robin felt that she deserved to be at least a little pretty.”
In “Station to Station,” a young woman of mixed parentage is described: “She is the perfect hybrid, the person we will all look like in a thousand years, once our DNA has comingled into one grand multiracial post-human.”
The story “Travelers” is, like many of the other stories, about down-on-their-luck misfits who spend too much time in a bar or doing drugs. This story is a gritty one, but it has some memorable lines.
“The man’s voice is bleached from nicotine, bourbon, sorrow, and old hand-me-down guitar accompanies.”
“Before he died, the singer had been known for nocturnal riffs that pledged a shred of hope and shard of love.”
This book of short stories is often dark, exposing the soft underbelly of despair and loneliness that pervades so much of urban America. But the author doesn’t pull any punches, putting all the raw emotion he possibly can in the reader’s hands, often testing the outer limits of what’s comfortable in a lead character and your investment in him or her.
I give this collection five stars, and hope to see more from this talented writer.
About this blog
An exploration of the world of Ingrid Hall - book reviews and a little bit of Newcastle history. They do say variety is the spice of life!