This collection of short stories cleverly exploits the idea of descansos, those impromptu roadside shrines that commemorate loss, calling to mind both those who have left and those who are left.
Lyons’ stories are bound together by the idea that people should leave something behind in their lives. Something should honor them, whether it is a literal marker, as in “The Tallest Totem Pole in the World,” or a figurative one, as in “Security Risk.” In “Aaron’s Auto Salvage and Restoration,” Preacher Aaron, dismissed by his congregation, winds up running a junkyard in Arkansas and erecting, over the years, a great cross decorated with hubcaps, mementos of wrecks on the highway. Then, in “Arnold’s Café,” there’s the memorial to a homeless fellow who was happy to share his roadkill cuisine with hungry strangers. In “Day of the Dead,” a Border Patrol agent helps a mojado (someone who has entered the country illegally) erect a small descanso along an Arizona highway to honor his family who perished trying to cross the border; the agent then escorts him back to Mexico without the bother of paperwork. Blue-J, an orderly who catheterizes patients in a no-hope care facility, introduces some tough patients, including two who make a failed but heroic escape in their wheelchairs. (You will cheer.) More than one of these stories deals with the aftermath of war, of how it damages people. Elsewhere, in “Colors,” a wife leaves a descanso of wrecked whirligigs after she escapes her abusive husband—so Lyons stretches the idea a bit but in a good direction. A gifted storyteller, Lyons has a wonderful ear for dialect, effortlessly going beyond mimicry and on special display with Blue-J as well as Nunzio in “Holy Roller.” In “Afterword: Seeds,” Lyons explains what occasioned each story; in his case, the “write what you know” cliché worked wonders.
An engrossing collection giving ordinary people their due.