"A well-crafted novel that will particularly appeal to sports and history aficionados."– Kirkus Reviews
This short-fiction collection examines various characters’ reactions to death, past regrets, and other life changes.
Joy’s (American Past Time, 2015) stories range from the wistful reminiscence of “Riding a Greyhound Bus into the New World,” in which a widower reflects on the young, inept man that he was on his honeymoon, to the more cynical “The Quick Pick,” in which an unusual couple builds a life by using the winning lottery ticket of a dead man. Many of the characters in these stories never seem to completely find peace, but some do reach some kind of redemption. In “Dalton’s Good Fortune,” for instance, a broken Vietnam vet finds salvation from a fortuneteller, and in “Nina’s Song,” a man who’s carried the unimaginable guilt of losing his sister in a mall ever since he was a child realizes that his family has never blamed him for her disappearance. Throughout these often very brief tales, no matter how dire, bleak, reflective, or celebratory they might be, Joy maintains a smooth prose style with a light touch that acts as a counterpoint to the darkness. At the same time, he fills the tales with imagery as exceptional as that in his debut novel, as in “The Girl from Yesterday”: “His face was all leathery, like boots after they get nice and broke in.” Among the life-changing epiphanies, Joy sprinkles in humor; “Pickup Line at the Ritz Carlton” is basically a setup and a punchline. He also evokes mystery in “Triage,” in which the wife of a retired, philandering surgeon suggests that he relieve his boredom by taking a mountain bike ride; this doesn’t turn out well, which leaves readers wondering about the wife’s motives. There’s also an engaging trilogy of connected pieces (“The Girl from Yesterday,” “Time Don’t Run Out On Me,” and the titular story) that follow different characters through a night on the town.
Short, edgy tales with depth.
Dancer Stonemason, a minor league pitcher, falls into a downward spiral in Joy’s debut novel.
This darkly nostalgic story is a study of an American family through good times and bad, engagingly set against major events from the 1950s to the ’70s, as issues of race simmer in the background. After pitching a perfect game, Dancer dreams of playing in the major leagues, but he never gets his chance due to a perpetually sore arm and the financial needs of his expanding family. He moves from his off-season job as a parts inspector at a Caterpillar plant to the company’s better-paying foundry, run by the Thackers, a father and son who are also members of the Ku Klux Klan. Joy vividly describes the workplace as a Dantean hell: “Once the furnace was fired up and the men started building molds, the air would be filled with carbon ash and fine black molding sand. The junk hung in the air and made everything look blurry, like a bad dream.” Stripped of his own dream, Dancer starts drinking and getting into fights; eventually, he gets arrested and becomes increasingly alienated from his wife and sons. Dancer’s older son Clayton, who once idolized him, grows to hate him, despite the fact that he’s just like Dancer in many ways. Meanwhile, Dede, Dancer’s wife, goes to work and has affairs but still helps her husband whenever he’s in trouble. Eventually, Dancer is taken in by a black milkman who’s a recovering alcoholic, a situation that eventually leads to a violent denouement and Dancer’s ultimate redemption. Overall, this novel is a natural for history buffs, filled with period details such as sting-ray bikes, Green Stamps, and the names of famous baseball players, including Spahn, Larsen, Mantle and Musial. However, it’s also an expertly written examination of the importance of dreams to the human psyche.
A well-crafted novel that will particularly appeal to sports and history aficionados.
A high school basketball coach deals with small-town secrets.
From the outset of this novel, just about every aspect of Darwin Burr’s life in Claxton, 60 miles from Chicago, is set up for possible upheaval. He works at AutoPro, a nationwide car parts retailer, for his childhood buddy Billy Rourke, who has been involved in some increasingly questionable business practices. Darwin has a stable but cold relationship with his wife, Daina, who thinks he lacks ambition. Their daughter, Astra, is getting ready to try out for the high school varsity basketball team. That’s when the changes start. The team’s coach becomes ill, suffering chest pains. Billy arranges for Darwin, a former Claxton basketball star, to assist the school’s guidance counselor, Fariba Pahlavi, in coaching the team. Then Billy disappears as representatives from the corporate office show up looking to fire him and turn him over to the FBI. One of those reps, Stephanie Washington, steps in as the interim boss to audit Billy’s records. Adding to the turmoil, Darwin takes an interest in recruiting Toni, a young girl, for the basketball team and soon winds up trying to help her out of a difficult home situation. Everyone he knows has secrets, and they all seem to be revealed at once, forcing Darwin to figure out who he is without his support group. There are a lot of characters swirling around Darwin, the center of this story, and Joy (Letting Go, 2018, etc.) makes them all count. They each have distinct personalities, from the guy who owns the breakfast place to Daina, Fariba, and Darwin himself. The author has a good eye for telling details and exchanges between characters. At one point, when Darwin is trying to find out more about Daina’s past as a Latvian immigrant, he observes, “I learned that when she put my name at the end of her speech it meant our discussion was over.” This version of Claxton feels real, like North Bath, New York, in Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the book is that Joy avoids the temptation to wrap everything up too cleanly after introducing so many complications.
A character-rich, skillfully plotted Midwestern drama.