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by Jim May

Pub Date: May 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-87483-339-6
Publisher: August House

The oral tradition suffers in its translation to print in this flawed collection of raconteur May's stories about his upbringing as a Catholic farmboy in Spring Grove, Illinois. Misunderstandings of papal dogma—a recurrent theme—initially provide some winsome moments. In ``The Age of Reason,'' the young author's fear of death (sparked by the demise of a cow) results in attempts to save dead souls. ``Christmas Eve in the Barn'' ably evokes once-upon-a-time Christian neighborliness (May acts as a good Samaritan to a lonely hobo) while simultaneously depicting the quaint traditions of a country holiday. Thoughtful details coupled with dramatic timing result in May's strongest story, ``The Ten Twenty,'' which shows May and his friends watching the future, in the form of an express train, whiz by the sleepy town. Overwhelmingly, however, the work is marred by rampant sentimentality and overstated wholesomeness. The description of goody-goody May delightedly watching worms reproduce in ``Nightcrawlers'' contains stabs at humor for which ``corny'' and ``doting'' are adjectives far too kind. When speaking, the author's chatty, rambling tone may serve him well, but in book format many of the tales suffer from a lack of clear direction and resolution. ``Republican Picnic,'' which illustrates the good-natured political differences among townspeople, and ``John Henry,'' about the town's one black man, are more accurately labeled anecdotes than stories. Some chapters have resolution forced upon them: ``Mourning Dove'' (about killing animals with a toy gun) gropes awkwardly for its tenuous, hyperdidactic conclusion, while ``A Bell for Shorty'' (about May's father) tugs so hard and desperately at the heartstrings, you can almost hear them ripping. The particulars of the rural past certainly have intrinsic interest, but those searching for tart or fibrous substance should look elsewhere; this is Wonder Bread.