The prolific noir-ist (Wyoming, 2000, etc.) spits out his first “major” story collection.
Although the settings stretch from Idaho or Havana on to the dangerous anonymity of Anytown USA, the themes are remarkably similar without getting monotonous—usually. The title story is a simple piece of work about a Japanese family, running a motel in Idaho in the 1960s, who are surprised to see a black man check in. It’s an unusual point of view for Gifford—a 13-year-old girl—but one he pulls off well. In “The Old Days,” an aged gangster goes to Havana to look halfheartedly for his old love and the son they had together. As he drinks in a sidewalk café, a palpable sense of toughened nostalgia wafts through the pages. More true to Giffordian form are pieces like “The Big Love of Cherry Layne.” Good pulpy fun, it’s a daytime talk show–esque sliver about a babysitter who falls in love with her charge, eight years her junior. When he’s barely a teenager, Cherry seduces him. It all ends with a runaway, a car, the police, a gun and a newspaper clipping. The volume climaxes with the novella “The Lost and the Lonely.” Dedicated “to the memories of Douglas Sirk and James Ross,” it’s another ode to fast-living, classic cars, and crime melodrama. There’s a club called The Pharaoh’s Flame, a couple who go by the names of Kiss and Torch, and lines like “You always was hot shit around here, Torch. But bein’ a high school football stud don’t go very far in the real world, does it?” The ghosts of Gifford’s muses, Sailor and Lula, and their fiery dialogue are everywhere, even though the two are nowhere to be seen.
Sporadic enjoyment is to be had, but too many of the sketches seem like back-file scrapings and unfinished outlines for solid power. Gifford provides some ecstatic highs and lows, but little remains afterward.