"Good reads to be pondered over."– Kirkus Reviews
Bookended by sections of memoir and history, these four short stories give a vivid picture of Oklahoma past and near-present.
Reiswig (Water Boy, 2012, etc.) was raised in Oklahoma and came of age in the 1950s. The first portion of memoir tells of life on the farm for Reiswig when he was a boy following in his father’s footsteps. It culminates with his initiation in castrating a young bull, an act that leaves him dizzy and burdened with new wisdom he can’t yet comprehend. “The Box Supper” features a boy of about the same age and a vaguely menacing character named Dootie Poor. Sexual tensions are writhing just below the surface at an innocent-seeming school fundraiser. Again, this boy knows without really knowing that things are not as they seem. In fact, all the short stories basically concern a boy about to discover himself; sometimes he is referred to as “the boy,” and his parents are “the man” and “the woman,” giving the stories a reverberating universality. In “Two-Door Hardtop,” Dean’s uncle Bernie, about to fight in Korea, buys a brand-new Ford Crown Victoria and entrusts it to Dean (who can’t even drive yet) for the duration. But a very different—shellshocked—Bernie comes home and is never whole and sound again. When Bernie eventually sells the car, Dean feels betrayed. “Fair Game” is a punning title referring to high school football, rivalries and even bird hunting. In “Bright Angel Trail,” family history and dynamics are exposed while the vacationing family travels a desperate hike down that titular trail in the Grand Canyon. The closing memoir section relates the Reiswig family history, starting when they were “Volga Germans” in Russia in the 18th century and then early settlers of the Oklahoma Panhandle, living through the Dust Bowl and other trying times. They were tough people living in an elemental landscape. Reiswig writes clearly and well in a style as simple and open as the high plains, giving readers the Oklahoma of fundamentalist religion, fanatical high school sports and all the things that hold people together through their hardscrabble existences. You don’t have to be an Okie to appreciate that.
Good reads to be pondered over.
The promise of a winning high-school football team corrupts the values of a 1950's Oklahoma town--in a first novel by Reiswig. Narrator Sonny Schultz has a deeply religious Baptist mother who will eventually go crazy, and a father who owns the newspaper in his hometown of Cimarron. Sonny is a mama's boy who wants to be a preacher after an early vision of Jesus, so it's not surprising that he lacks the killer instinct to be a player for his high- school Dustdevils. What puts him in the catbird seat is not the lowly position of team manager, or water boy, but his close friendship with star quarterback Danny Boone, who's fast replacing the older but less motivated ``Killer'' Miller in the town's favor. The merchants press freebies on Danny; the sheriff winks at his theft of some watermelons; older women yearn to be serviced by this hot new stud, including Killer's girl Dovie and the virginal Anne Tendal, whose beauty stopped Sonny in his tracks while he was answering God's call at a crusade for Christ, led by evangelist and communist fighter Joe Don Jones. When Danny loses his fighting spirit after a brush with death, the evangelist ``saves'' him for Christ (and the upcoming season) while forcing Anne, the fleshly distraction, to leave town. As the novel moves slowly toward the championship game and the inevitable bloodletting between Danny and the rival Killer, the guilt-ridden Sonny becomes infected by the win-at-all-costs spirit.... What might have been a powerful indictment of civic and religious hypocrisy is vitiated by Reiswig's ambivalence: part of him wants to see that winning play as youthful derring-do. Add a lack of focus and a weakness for melodrama, and you have a ho-hum debut.