Howard (Tea of Ulaanbaatar, 2011) returns with a collection of seven short stories.
Howard’s imaginative and mortality-obsessed collection opens with “Darkstar,” a pre-apocalyptic tale set in dank, dystopian Dublin. Mankind awaits a star’s Earth-destroying gamma-ray burst. In lushly descriptive writing—“The web was backlit by the sunset and beads of moisture glistened along its quivering, intricate symmetry”—a young man called Sailor scrounges, nearly starves, becomes half-blind and finds love, solace and understanding only from Liz, a leg-brace–wearing girl whose appliance is surely symbolic of something twisted. “Intelligent People Speaking Reasonably” and “How to Make Millions in the Oil Market” separately explore angst, loss and PTSD. In the first, Chavez and Berryman, wounded Iraqi War veterans awaiting discharge, contemplate their captain’s death. In the second, a contract security guard survives a firefight in Iraq, the culmination of which haunts him past divorce and into the arms of a young college student. “Space Is Kindness” follows a jaded reporter as he visits the plane crash site where a state governor has died. His rain-soaked journey becomes a trip through cynicism and ennui shadowed against his companion’s nihilism. “Son of Man,” fourth in the collection, finds taciturn Vietnam veteran Buzz working as a mechanic for the murderous Manson family. Buzz is a narc, a missive from a phantasmagoric government agency that realizes Charles Manson is the unintended spawn of an experiment gone rogue. The collection concludes with “Prince of the World,” a McCarthy-Blood-Meridian-brutal American frontier tale. In 1818, Labelle, half-breed “manchild” of “a scrubber of floors and a beggar and pickpocket and other things,” treks north from New Orleans after his mother’s death. He encounters mayhem, murder, lynchings at the hands of city mobs, trappers, rogue Shawnees, boatmen and river pirates before he’s finally caught up in a merciless, barbarous tribal war— “leaking red waistcoats…limbs mangled in impossible poses.”
Literary stories exploring the dark, cruel borders of realism.