Fourteen stories peel back the lives of men and women in present-day Appalachia.
Much of Sypolt’s debut collection is set in a small town called Warm, “a place where no one cares if you live in a trailer,” which many of the characters do. The Golden Egg, a restaurant/bar, is a common landmark. Its frequent mentions across the book further establish the strong sense of setting that unifies the stories. Most residents have known one another since childhood, and neighbors witness each other’s tragedies. There is violence everywhere: drownings, domestic abuse, rape, murders, runaways and disappearances. All are told, however, with a similar quiet, retrospective tone. Sometimes, the tone clashes with the content. Narrators fail to describe the full urgency and intensity of a scene. They do acknowledge this: “There’s no way to tell it that doesn’t sound like a cliché,” Marianne says of her brother having shot and killed his wife. Elsewhere, hiding a body is compared to a movie: “The only way to go about it was to pretend it was a movie, and we were actors.” Even in “Lettuce,” a haunting story with a subtle, more emotional central conflict, the narrator notes that her life feels like “some melodramatic, made-for-TV movie.” Still, the book is full of powerful images—a tiny figure of Jesus set on fire in a church attic is just one example—and the questions characters are left with will haunt the reader, too.
A portrait of small-town residents grappling with the good and evil in and around them.