An anthology of fiction thematically organized around American conflicts.
The history of the United States has always been tempestuous, rife with war and violent domestic struggle. In this book, Blue (Bird Tales, 2014, etc.) groups 55 chapters from his 12 novels into six sections, each devoted to a particular period in America’s past and with a special emphasis on the conflict that defined it. The collection begins with World War I and then takes the reader on a literary tour of the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War as well as the turmoil surrounding the civil rights movement, the ideological battle over the purpose of higher education, and the war on drugs. Blue often chooses unusual perspectives through which to examine each epoch; for example, in excerpts from Giessow’s Cottage Farm, 10-year-old Jaybird runs away from home repeatedly in the 1930s until he makes friends with an enigmatic man named Phil, who lost his father in the Great War. In chapters of Shorty Spooner, the titular protagonist is a half–Native American, half-white crew chief for a telephone company in 1956 who supervises a remarkably diverse team for the Alabama of the era. Blue can also be absurdly funny, capturing human foibles with satire. In extracts from Higher Ed, the 6-foot-9-inch president of Sidney University, Dr. Edward Appleton—nicknamed “Higher Ed”—learns that the school’s star fullback, House Finch, has been arrested for petty theft, and he’s subsequently beleaguered by requests that he look the other way ahead of a big game. The author’s prose is typically sharp, and his appraisals of the nation’s history gimlet-eyed. However, for anyone who’s unfamiliar with Blue’s corpus of work, this collection of excerpts will be difficult to understand without context. Even the sequence of chapter selections can be confusing: the book jumps from the third chapter of Count to Chapter 35 and back to Chapter 15. For those interested in Blue’s writing, the best plan would be to skip this book entirely and read any of his full novels instead.
An inventively written collection of excerpts that may frustrate readers who are unfamiliar with the author.