A short story collection about quail hunting that has wings but never quite takes flight.
Following the American Civil War, when interstate travel was made considerably easier by the newly constructed railroad, certain wealthy city folk from the North discovered the mild winters and plentiful quail populations that their Southern neighbors enjoyed. The Northerners quickly established large estates, modeled after those in Britain, and hired locals to lead groups of men and their dogs on hunting expeditions. Bird dogs became legendary in this neck of the woods, and their trainers shared in the glory of a successful haul. Word (A Little Competition, 2003, etc.) has a knack for constructing the type of clean, spare sentences necessary to properly represent the hypermasculine protagonists of this era. Not only is the author familiar with the sights and sounds of quail hunting, he understands the dynamics that transform such instinctual activities into studies of the human psyche. However, Word doesn’t quite deliver when it comes to plot development and substance–there are 22 stories here, which is a bit surprising considering the book’s slim page count. Word’s minimalism would make even Hemingway look verbose, but his writing doesn’t have the aplomb to carry off Papa’s brand of stylized brevity. While Word’s a natural at setting the scene for good narrative, he often forgets to hunt down a climax, which makes his resolutions feel forced and unsatisfying. In particular, the topic of race relations–which he approaches with sensitivity and grace in more than a few of these stories–is unfortunately never brought to closure in the book. Word often has the target in his sights but can’t quite bring himself to pull the trigger.
A writer with a good ear for language, but many of these tales end on a false note.