A lush tangle of small-town life branches out in this engrossing collection of short stories.
The town of Acorn, population 21,000, is rare for its abundance of trees, unheard of on the dry West Texas plains. It also boasts a profusion of quirky characters–both in line and at odds with Texas’s Bible-belt, football-factory culture–whose relationships entwine and deepen from one tale to the next. A coach threatens to out a deaf, gay high-school English teacher after he gives a failing mark to a gridiron star. A gallery owner threatens to out the publicly homophobic mayor with whom he had a brief gay affair. A jobless loser, dependent on his wife’s money, starts a fundamentalist church group to keep women in their place. A young wife holds down two strip-mall jobs while dreaming of becoming a painter, and a hack novelist fakes his death to drum up sales. There’s also a roster of characters coping with mundane joys and heartaches–a black woman finds late-blooming love, a cop vows to short circuit the cycle of abuse that marred his childhood, a domineering woman and a lunkhead limp toward marriage. The characters walk in and out of each other’s stories, sometimes taking center stage, sometimes playing supporting roles that complicate our view of them with shifting perspectives and ironic detail. Simolke (Degranon, 2002, etc.) steers clear of schmaltz and writes with a open-eyed sympathy that illuminates the characters without glamorizing them.
Beautifully crafted stories with a true-to-life ring.