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A Collection of Stories from the Heartland

by Charles A. Wells Jr.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1450794343
Publisher: CreateSpace

Wells, a businessman from Middle America, presents his debut collection of short stories.

A financial advisor by day, Wells pens each of his vignettes like a cost-benefit analysis, leaving the now-informed reader to choose: buy in or not. In “Basic Training,” a gawky Wells leaves the halls of the Ivy League for the fields of Louisiana. Knowing he is never to face the trenches of Vietnam, Wells simply struggles to survive an attack from a backwoods ginger giant named “Red” and the scapegoating by an unfriendly drill sergeant. While Wells never loses the candor that earned him these consequences, he develops an apology reflex that absolves him of blame in the stories that follow. Moments like in “Coast to Coast,” however—where his youthful irreverence triumphs—make for deadpan gold: a father-son rescue mission of a baby lamb is celebrated with a lamb dinner. Similarly, Wells abandons his cautious, cumbersome reference to a transgender character as “he/she” for a more reckless, though cringe-worthy, character sketch: “striking from a distance…with a voice like Robert Mitchum’s in a beef commercial.” The reader can’t help but cheer on such humorous interludes once arriving at narratives like “Bowling Green,” which has all the levity of a legal brief. Having ignored the subtextual history of slavery and segregation in this piece, Wells adds the section “Race”—a sort of post-script apology for having painted a Pleasantville with Marges and Earls, Minnies and Charlies and no mention of this substantive theme. Yet again, Wells is forgiven of his grave missteps in stories like “Three Funerals” where the punch-line is a whimsical, albeit purposeless, crafting of a country song. But Wells never has the chance to beg forgiveness for the blunder in his final and namesake story, “Nude Nuns”; in the span of five pages, Wells manages to speak past the foot in his mouth, flagging lesbians by their footwear and defining a hot tub as a “conversation pit with tits.”

This amalgamation of  “distinctly frivolous” stories lacks a strong selling-point, but you get the feeling early and often that Wells doesn’t seem to much care whether he makes the sale so long as he gets to make the pitch.