A novel delivers a rural fable, the story of a man trapped by his own choices.
Fast Eddie Burke always makes his life harder by trying to take the path of least resistance. He works at the coal mine, like almost every man he knows. His wife has left him, and he hints it’s because he didn’t stand up and fight to keep her. He drinks with his buddies in an abandoned house on Fridays. Everyone brings his own liquor. Most of Eddie’s meals are sandwiches from the store or fried squirrel or rabbit he hunts near his house. Just about everything makes him uncomfortable: going to church; hanging around a group of people. So when his co-worker Turp Lawson asks to join the drinking party, Eddie doesn’t know what to make of it. He decides to ask the other guys, and when they agree, Eddie starts down a road that will change his life. Turp seems to be taken with the idea of finally having friends. When Eddie shows the slightest bit of courtesy, Turp asks him over to the house for Sunday dinner. Turp’s wife, Marta, is immediately taken with Eddie and initiates an affair behind her husband’s back. Marta has a habit of belittling Turp, who has never had much confidence. And when Turp brings some questionable moonshine to the drinking bash, he goes off the rails, which only brings Marta and Eddie that much closer. In this short, enjoyable tale, Helvey (Claw Hammer: A Gathering of Stories, 2015, etc.) has a simple but cutting way with his prose. When Eddie happens upon an old man singing, the author has this to say about how the song affects the protagonist: “Even the words sounded strange and tired as though they were very old and had traveled a long way.” In addition, Helvey’s remarkable rural setting and resonant characters are eerily unstuck from time. There are coal mines and family-owned local shops, and the owner of the mine, Eller Whitman, comes off as a dandy millionaire from decades back. But the titular snapshot is a Polaroid, and the cars seem modern.
A quick, satisfying read with a beautiful otherworldly feel; highly recommended for fans of John Steinbeck.