Drunks do stupid things in this debut.
In “Snow Fever,” diner cook Bill Kane embarks on a drunken orgy of cooking, trying to express in seafood what he can’t say in words. Linda Hartley is an advice columnist with problems of her own, mostly with romance; in “Love Him, Petaluma,” she leads a sad-sack Easter parade from one tavern to another. Harlin Wilder is a ne’er-do-well’s ne’er-do-well: Not only has he been incarcerated for his own mostly petty, mostly avoidable crimes, but, in “Newspaper Clipping,” he ends up in jail after his twin brother, Cyrus, steals some chicken wings. These characters are just a few of the regulars at Lucy’s, a bar in small-town upstate New York. All of them are losers of more or less the same type; that is, they are men and women whose defining quality is being a bar regular. To call the tales of their misadventures and misdeeds “A Novel in Stories” is misleading. The stories do share a common setting, but there is no unifying narrative, nor is there a dynamic interaction between the stories that would make this collection more than the sum of its parts. When she shifts focus to allow a new character to take center stage, Barry offers a peripheral view of her cast of regulars, but this new perspective offers no new insight; it simply reinforces what we already know about them. Indeed, readers get to know these characters about as well as barflies get to know each other. We learn what they boast about and what they complain about; we learn who’s slept with whom; and we learn what everybody likes to drink. But we never see these characters as real people. Instead, they remain cogs in a wan assortment of tritely quirky and supposedly illuminating anecdotes.
As if the Bukowski corpus was watered down for television.