You know you’re a redneck when there are so many of you trying to be outsiders that Barnes & Noble gives you your own section in the store.
It’s hard to identify the individual talent of debut writer Davis, this year’s Iowa Short Fiction Award winner, who, in trying to pin down an unexplored Alabama, seems also compelled to use the style of various southern masters as if to prove that she’s in complete command of her literary heritage. The first piece, “Rewriting Girl,” captures the whole idea, in a way—we hear the tale of a ravishing redneck girl, often written about, but finally now writing her own story. “Some Things Collide” is about a girl who runs off to Florida to escape a lump in her breast, only to encounter quicker forms of death and the knowledge that wisdom, too, grows like a tumor. No southern collection, it seems, would be complete without a tale told by an idiot: The only appeal of “Only Ends” is its semiretarded voice suspended somewhere between Faulkner and Forrest Gump. Davis explores the difficult lives of women (“The One Thing God’ll Give You”) in a world where all the men are named Fast Eddie and have clever similes for women’s private parts. Similarly, “Pojo’s and the Buttery Slope” is about a down-home woman with a dead husband who’s trying to find another, in the process learning that owning a man means you’re empty-handed. Davis is talented and flexible, but her vision of the South too often boils down to women acting rampantly promiscuous while they worry about looking like whores.
A talent still emerging and perhaps impeded by a preimagined vision of itself.