Benedict's first collection of stories since his auspicious if uneven debut (Town Smokes, 1987) is a far more accomplished work, establishing him among the best young southern writers—full of passion and mature enough to keep it under control. Benedict searches out the moral dimension in the hardscrabble lives of rednecks and country people, and transcends the folksy bromides they espouse. He discerns the confusion and ambiguities in their seemingly uncomplicated lives. In ``Rescuing Moon,'' the narrator retrieves a dying friend from a nursing home, only to realize he doesn't know what to do with him next. The title story, about some decent guys who salvage car wrecks, hints at the conflict in their lives between doing their vulture-like job and empathizing with the tragedies they witness. In ``Bounty,'' a fellow from the country comes to town hoping to collect a reward for the truckload of dead dogs he's shot, even though they seem to be domestic animals and not wild predators. Almost as funny and bizarre (though equally believable) is ``Horton's Ape,'' the death song of a former circus baboon who lives in a cage behind a roadhouse, where he causes lots of trouble. ``Odom'' is a pitch- perfect tale of ``crazy backward ridge-running mountain rats''—a dirt-poor father and son who are clearing a homestead with bootleg dynamite. Benedict's stories about male-female relations transcend the clichÇs of hard-luck romance. The flawless ``Getting Over Arnette'' records the sorrow and redemption of a good old boy who bemoans the loss of his fiery girlfriend, who returns after his barroom beating. The weird and gothic radio play, ``The Electric Girl,'' concerns love, a murder of passion, retribution, and sideshow freaks. Similarly, the historical ``Washman,'' a long Shirley Jacksonish tale of fate and violence, explores the mysteries of abstract beauty and ugliness. The author's mystical sensibility shows itself plainly in the bedtime story ``The Panther,'' a backwoods Ovidian narrative. Benedict's range is expansive, his vision focused, and his voice true.
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