Homespun parables about life, the universe and lots of other things from a wise old storyteller’s perspective.
Part Walton’s Mountain, part Tobacco Road, Belik’s debut story collection evokes a mythic past of the not-so-easy life in the byways of rural America. Of the four short fictional tales featured here, three seem to be set in the days of the Great Depression, while the other evokes that troubled period with vintage cars and a similarly period-style hobo jaunt along the tarmac. With pluck, faith and what used to be called â€œheart,” Belik’s heroes somehow get by–some even prosper. The books opens with the rather shaggy parable of an unfortunately named lad, one John Van Groot Jones III, who proves his mettle to the older, tougher boys at Clay Orphan’s Home by riding down a steep ravine inside a unused iron furnace. For better or worse, it could be an episode of The Little Rascals. The second is a droll yarn about an â€œordinary boy” with an extraordinary first name, Ichyomous, and his equally esoteric skill at long-distance cherry-pit spitting. Fame and fortune and, naturally, the girl of his teenage dreams are his until homework intervenesâ€¦and his life returns to its uneventful former state. The collection’s highpoint is Belik’s panoramic third story, â€œOver the Blue Ridge Parkway in an Antique Car,” in which a pair of gentlemen, perhaps adult versions of his young protagonists, set off on a very leisurely 1,000-mile road trip in a speed-challenged ’25 Dodge–its wry realism rings truer than the other stories’ somewhat easy nostalgia and tendency toward cornpone. The final tale, a tearjerker set in the coal mines of Southern Illinois, concerns a stoic immigrant miner quietly grieving for his two dead young sons. But this story is seriously hampered by stock-character dialogue written in implausible dialect. A short, folksy lyric poem, the Pete Seeger-ish â€œWhy,” forms a brief coda to Belik’s tragicomic, moralistic narratives.
A cozy, if sentimental read for a brisk autumn afternoon, or anytime you’re in need of a little charm with your tea.