The characters in Boilard’s version of Western Massachusetts are prone to cheap highs, faceless sex, and predictable violent outbursts. Boilard dares you to care about these characters, but he doesn’t always make it easy.
These stories probe the moral and economic squalor that exists below the surface of a respectable college town. Yet Boilard doesn’t examine how the characters got that way; he lets them slog through their lives and speak for themselves. Substance abuse and horrible parenting are both frequent themes: in “Nice Sleep,” a mother with an opiate addiction and an abusive boyfriend barely registers suffocating her son in a parked car. In “Sometimes There’s God,” a guy who makes a living beating people up gets too drunk to remember that he’s killed the lover of the stripper girlfriend he’s been cheating on. In “Storm Chaser,” a shellshocked war veteran is grateful for the fits of violence that send him back to jail, where he feels most comfortable. And in the most haunting story, “The Mohawk Trail,” a forgiving and love-starved son speaks as he dies after a drunken driving accident caused by his father. The only stories that don’t work are the two that are told in the Bright Lights, Big City style of manic second-person narrative.
These stories aren’t always easy to take, but they have the brevity, sharp focus, and corrosive anger of good punk rock.