Calling itself a "novel-in-stories," this debut collection of 20 tales takes a close, respectful look at poor folks in contemporary rural Arkansas.
Members of several families recur: Dalton, Pribble, Womack, Tatum; women named Staci, MeChell and Birdie; men named Rusty, Cleo and Skinny Dennis. Many of the stories are vignettes. Together, they paint a grim picture of a community that may or may not have been prosperous once but now is not. The few who have made it out into the world play baseball, and more than a few flamed out. Some went to war, and those that returned are damaged. The victim of one of several violent episodes wanted to be a phlebotomist and was considered ambitious. Crime is endemic. The title story has the makings of a backwoods police procedural, the deputies getting a whiff of corruption they can do nothing about while keeping an eye on the lowlifes. Fine descriptions, all of people, enliven the plain writing. Here, a father looks at his sleeping son: “He looked at what was left of the boy, skin tight over points of bone. A sprawling, dull tattoo on his chest, never finished. Maybe it was supposed to have been a dragon. Or smoke.” Here, a criminal sizes up a potential victim: “He was a big guy, skin tight like a child’s balloon twisted into the shape of a man.” Except for one Roy Alison, we don’t hear much of the characters’ inner lives, as if deprivation has atrophied their capacity to reflect. The final three stories examine whether or not Roy will change his ways.
Dark, noirish and worth a look.