Saturday, October 15, 2011
Mostly Redneck, reviewed
Rusty Barnes makes it look easy. In this collection of eighteen short stories, Barnes is off and running practically from the very first sentence, launching the reader headlong into his characters' lives, conflicts, romances, and dilemmas. One of my favorites, "When Sylvester Dances," about a WWII veteran on his deathbed, begins like this:
Sylvester thinks it's 1942, and he wants to go see Glenn Miller at the Tropicana. Sylvester's heard the news Glenn has enlisted, and wants to catch him one more time. He watches from his hospital bed at the woman he ought to recognize as his granddaughter prepares for battle, applies lipstick, a broad stroke of purple, having already dressed herself in his old Navy blues to go out to a disco party.
This is a poignant story—sad, yet happy too, as the confused Sylvester's life plays out before his eyes (and the reader's). We get his history, we feel his confusion, we know he's a good man, and we also know how the story will end. But Barnes does it masterfully, and the end shows the author's heart coming through in the writing. And all of this in just four pages!
Barnes accomplishes a lot in a little space. The stories in Mostly Redneck range in length from four to thirteen pages. Other standouts include "O Saddam!" in which the dictator hides from US troops in plain sight, as a nut salesman in Boston, and the woman who falls in love with him; "Two of a Kind," in which two damaged people find each other; and "Rick's Song," which has the lead character, Jimmy, taking a job at a Chinese restaurant after a life-changing car accident. His boss Rick, a jerk on the surface, is actually an intriguing character that adds another level of depth to the story. The characters are so well drawn that they (Jimmy, Rick, and Rick's daughter Song) show up again in the story "Song & Jimmy: Four Scenes."
If you're looking for short fiction, put Mostly Redneck on your list.