Fifteen funky, often interlocking tales of downtrodden Dixie form Singleton’s second collection (These People Are Us, 2001, not reviewed), flea markets and strange encounters figuring prominently.
The reference point for most of the stories is Forty-Five, South Carolina, and the characters are mostly following the advice at the end of “How to Collect Fishing Lures” (which is all about how to find them in murky water and on the tables of flea-market dealers): “On good days, think of yourself as a lure of some type, only half-human.” The lure used by Mendal’s father in “Show-and-Tell” is made of artifacts and dredged memories as he attempts to woo Mendal’s third-grade teacher, who dated him before she went away to college, with Mendal as the go-between. Madame Tammy, in “When Children Count,” is a college-educated flea-market palm reader whose appeal for a young girl is the fact that she speaks just like her dead momma; the girl, though, remains intent, along with her brother, on a search for their absent father, whom they are convinced they’ll find one day at the flea market selling lost golf balls. “Page-a-Day” is about another college graduate masquerading successfully as a primitive artist who changed his name to Seldom; a visit by a teenaged mother with a sick baby, who thinks Seldom can breathe on the child and cure her, sets in motion a bizarre chain of events that somehow restores equilibrium to his marriage. In the title story, a woman with a tic-tac-toe design carved in her face is more than what she seems—and leads a salesman of restaurant aquariums to question his motivation.
A kind of watery world stocked with quirky southern characters slithering through the ooze of their private pursuits. But there’s never a doubt that these creatures are, for better or worse, entirely human.