Thirteen lively stories in a first collection from novelist Gay (The Long Home, 1999, etc.), mostly about southern men tempted to run off with tempting young southern women.
The tales gravitate toward violence, both when they should and when they shouldn’t. In the title story, though, a widower abandons his nursing home (“a factory where they make dead folks and I ain’t workin’ there no more”) and returns home only to find that his house has been rented to an old nemesis; and a suicide is discovered in a couple’s field in “A Death in the Woods,” but why did the man choose here and how does the haunting of his ghost reflect the couple’s marital problems? “Bonedaddy, Quincy Nell, and the Fifteen Thousand BTU Electric Chair” is a bizarre and sometimes sweet love story that unfortunately does end with uncalled-for violence. The best of the bunch is “The Man who Knew Dylan,” a similar piece in which a man travels “into a world where the owls roosted with the chickens, where folks kept whippoorwills for pets and didn’t get the Saturday Night Opry till Monday morning” There, when he finds an intoxicating young woman who might be the Grim Reaper, she tells him, “‘I thought you looked like a man with a bridge on fire.’” “The Paperhanger” is another odd affair that leads toward murder, whereas in “Crossroads Blues” a man experiences the apathy of his ex-wife and the poetic mysticism of the Delta. The promise and intrigue of a bootlegger’s booty brings hope to a man’s doomed romantic prospects (“Closure and Roadkill on the Life’s Highway”), and another man spirals into violence and despondency after he shoots his wife’s dog (“Sugarbaby”). These stories are loud—lots of guns, lots of death—but the plot-heaviness isn’t a substitute for fine character and plenty of dialogue that’s as charming as it is wise.
Hellfire—in all the right ways.