A dozen coarse tales drenched in criminals, drugs and hard crime.
San Francisco–native Hallford (Upper Noe, 2006) continues to write California-based fiction with this collection of bleak tales. Hardscrabble characters and their messy lives are the focus: Two young drug dealers in the title story allow a girl to come between their decades-long friendship with deadly consequences, while the pretty, barely legal stripper in “Lap Dancing” moonlights by delivering packages for the lucrative drug mule operation run by her convict boyfriend. As in his former works, Hallford excels at characterization, and this acumen propels pages of raw dialogue and menacing subject matter. His stories are populated by pedophilic reverends, abusive husbands, angry jailbirds and folks who just seem to attract danger, like Maurice, a California newcomer in the standout piece, “Tumble Down,” whose new life becomes a deadly mess in a matter of days. Less successful is the story “Letters from Duke and Michelle,” which is comprised of listless, expletive-laden epistolary exchanges. There are also a few scattered sequences in which the author’s prose becomes overly melodramatic and convoluted; this is exemplified in “Light, Bountiful Light,” when a prison inmate reflects: “Instinct had guided him and the awareness of existence had not existed at all but was an indistinguishable pinhole of light so tiny it became unimaginable.” Atmospheric and relentlessly stark, Hallford’s prose presents a parade of downtrodden characters stomping through Sacramento, Oakland and San Francisco’s popular Mission, Fillmore and Bayview districts with ice in their hearts. There’s just enough intrigue here to keep readers titillated, but the author only scrapes at the surface of the trouble and tension his bold characters ignite.
An uneven collection with untapped potential—but by no means dry or dull.