Thornton’s debut collection of 44 true short stories lends a rare glimpse into coming-of-age in the rural American South.
Growing up on the Bend, a 30-family homestead on the North Carolina and Virginia border, Thornton spent most of his time lollygagging and making mischief. His stories are infused with such gleeful spirit that it’s easy to see why Thornton has developed a reputation among those that know him as the grandest of storytellers. Thornton shines as a narrator, whether he’s conspiring with friends to trick do-gooder passersby into picking up a “lost” pocketbook only to find a garden snake—or worse, a “turd”—hidden inside (“The Disappearing Pocketbooks”) or hiding his teacher’s yardstick after getting whacked one too many times for misbehaving (“Claustrophobia”). Beyond all the rabble-rousing, some of the best stories delve into the hardships of “getting by” in a poor, isolated community. He learns how to “make do” by reusing household objects (“Waste Not”), maintain a bountiful garden (“Putting Food on the Table”) and whip up tasty feasts in the kitchen from what most would consider inedible sources: chicken feet, squirrel brains and hog guts (“Strange Edibles”). The characters, too, are drawn with painstaking detail and affection. Shotgun Essie, Thornton’s grandmother, is a pistol and a half, and her adages speak volumes about her quirky personality. While Thornton’s writing style isn’t particularly polished, tidy sentences and careful paragraph construction are almost beside the point in these stories. Instead, readers will relish following Thornton as he leapfrogs from one tangential thought to the next, sharing gossip and porchside ramblings about those dear to his heart and the experiences that shaped him. Adding further atmosphere and depth to an already rich project are Harrison’s delicate, thoroughly expressive black-and-white sketches, as well as two maps of the Bend immediately following the foreword. Ultimately, the only activity more rewarding than reading these stories would be to hear Thornton tell them aloud, possibly while sitting around a campfire.
A treasure trove of hard-earned wisdom and wit.