Book Reviews …
Country Hardball, by Steve Weddle … the author has long established chops that have appeared in short story collections such as Protectors, First Shift, Both Barrels, Off The Record, and D*cked. Steve holds an MFA from Louisiana State University. In this novel, told in short story format, Weddle offers a slice of American too often ignored by the media—the flip side of an American dream, or more to the point, what the American dream has turned into. A former convict seeking a new start to life finds himself on the Arkansas-Louisiana border where there are no jobs, lots of drugs, violence, lost lives to a pointless war, banks taking homes and nothing much to look forward to in the foreseeable future.
Roy Alison is haunted by an accident from his past that cost the lives of his parents. He’s made bad choices ever since, winding up in juvenile detention and eventually jail. He wants to change, but the life he finds on the outside is an America devastated by the result of capitalism gone wild (my spin). Life doesn’t hold many promises for those in Weddle’s Southern small town.
Weddle does a wonderful job of linking his stories through fearsome, lonely, frightened and ultimately angry characters. You beat a man (or woman) down hard enough and they’ll eventually bite back. That works for societies in general as well. It may take a little longer before people see and/or feel the commonality of their despair, but it’s there just waiting for the right spark. It’s always there.
Two brilliant passages I found myself highlighting as I read were these:
The sun painted light onto the rug in front of her feet, as flecks of dust danced in a river to the window, every speck visible, sparkling, like your first glimpse of snow. The dust, caught for a moment, before the sun goes away and the dust settles, moving by books, by afghans, by the top edge of a picture frame, from room to room in the darkness.
And this one.
A car pulled up beside the two of them. Ken Moody rolled down his windows. “You fellas okay? Need a lift?” They shook their heads and he waved, drove on.
“How about it?” Rusty asked. “How come God couldn’t save her?”
“What would you have the almighty do, son?”
“I don’t know. Walk on water. Raise the dead. How come God only did stuff like that in the Bible? Why can’t he help people now?”
This is more than just another crime fiction collection. It’s a collection of our stories about our frayed American dream (Bonnie Joe Campbell came to mind while I read this one) that needs to be seen and read about. Kudos to the author for bringing this collection to light.
Visit the author’s website here:
Get Country Hardball here:
Naked Me, by Christian Winn … short stories, flash stories, stories about loneliness and grief, fathers and sons, gambling, rambling, desire, awkwardness (including two very awkward relationships—a daughter’s relationship with her mother’s lover; two sisters sharing the same man) … all wonderfully told and intriguing.
It’s difficult to choose a favorite, because there were several that continue to hold my attention (stories and scenarios that I continue to think about several days after I finished reading). Father-son relationships (Where He’s Living Now) are always a particular interest of mine, so there’s that flight to San Diego when a son visit with his father and their coming to terms at a neighbor’s backyard scrabble game. There’s also the title story (Naked Me), wherein a man bets his fellow card players that he can nail the vixen doing stripteases (and more) for them across the courtyard. There’s also a bit about the two dead dentists found floating in a basin (Dentists), although the story isn’t about the dentists (and is probably my co-favorite). These stories, so many of them, are relatable on many levels to my guess? Everyone and anyone who reads them.
A woman mourns dead celebrities (All Her Famous Dead) … while debating how or if to tell her mother she’s been sleeping the same man as mom. There are two young friends going through different types of a loss of motherhood (The Dirtiest Hamburger in the World). One Mom has left her husband son behind, while the other Mom seems to have lost her mind (I wanted this one to keep going—maybe a novel?)
Winn’s collection is not so much linked as it is an all-encompassing view of lives any one of us can (or have) live(d) ourselves. Mr. Formal was another one I thought about long and hard (and wanted even more of); how working in a tuxedo rental joint with a kind of man-child had to lead where the story eventually took us. Brilliant stuff, really. Fighting Mormons gets ugly in Rough Cut, a terrific riff on buddies sharing a hard time after one of them has been knocked senseless and the other has had to rescue him, albeit late. False History is another fine story that ends the collection. A man on vacation with his wife and child defies whatever bleakness might await by the simple act of seeing/recognizing his wife and child, their smiles, what his future really needs to be.
My favorite of the flash fiction in the collection was One Thing to Take. A 19 year-old and her sister have the same boyfriend-lover. Their dad is gone and their mother has taken up with his uncle. Oh, man, did I want more of this one.
Naked Me, is also highly recommended.
Visit the author at his website here:
Get Naked Me here:
Or visit Dock Street Press, like I did, and buy it here:
Movie Review …
Barney’s Version … the Principessa Ann Marie and I were both in need of a break last week and we decided to watch a movie instead of fantasize about winning the powerball lotto. We had no idea what we were in for when we chose this particular film. We knew absolutely nothing about it. We hadn’t heard of it, or the novel it was based on. We chose this movie because of the cast. Sometimes, like this time, that kind of choice pays off.
Early on, it’s tough to care much for the lead character, Barney Panofsky (played by Paul Giammatti). He comes off as sexist, arrogant, miserable and generally unlikeable (kind of like Knucks, my wife tells me). He’s in Rome about to be married to a whackjob who is pregnant (why he’s marrying her), except it isn’t his baby. No spoilers here, but what follows is a suicide, a second marriage, some wonderful acting, hilarious humor, and some of the most depressing drama you’ll encounter. Not depressing in a bad way … more heartbreaking than depressing. Bottom line: it’s a wonderful movie with a GREAT cast, and it comes very highly recommended.
Waxing Poetic … Sportscaster, Stephen A. Smith stepped into the shit two weeks ago when his incessant ranting (I really think this clown gets off on it sometimes) spewed out a suggestion to the female sex about not provoking their men into slugging them … say what?
It had to do with Ray Rice’s knockout of his fiancé (now his wife) and Roger Goodell’s never ending ball-licking of his bosses (NFL owners) as he handed out a 2 game suspension to Rice (because, let’s face it, knocking out a woman doesn’t really make the NFL look all that bad … I mean, it’s not like smoking pot, right?). A Bills linebacker received a 1 game suspension for marijuana possession (his charges were later dropped because the amount was so small) … leaving the moral to this story … If you’re an NFL player, get caught with a joint (or less) and you can kiss a single paycheck goodbye. Knock out a woman and it’ll be two paychecks, MF’ers … so take that!
Oy vey …
In any event, Mr. Smith received a one week suspension from the network that licks the NFL’s balls, ESPN.
Man, that’s a lot (and enough) of ball licking for one week.
My beloved New York State Buffalo Bills are set to play the Moonachie Blue team Sunday night after the Hall of Fame ceremonies that will include the inductions of Andre Reed (Kutztown State, future bride of Cugino, Jason—Alison) and Michael Strahan. I can’t get angry at the Blue team from Moonachie, not after they knocked off the Cheaterfaces from New England (a.k.a., Choketriots). These NFL pre-season games, I suspect, are mere practice for the trainers as they do their best to prolong the careers of guys playing a sport with a shelf life of anywhere from 3.2 years to 6 years (depending on which set of propaganda you use). Bottom line: It ain’t a long career … so while owners get to sell for billions and refuse to open their books, maybe it’s time to strike again (dummies)?
My favorite of the German arias … Liebestod … goosebumps, brothers and sisters … goosebumps.