Here there is heartache and trauma and humanity. There is detachment and longing and grief. Maybe we need to expand the umbrella that covers a “better class” of people. Or maybe, our narrator is accurate when, early in the book, he asserts, “Everyone I know is horrible.”
In Shaky Town, Mathews expertly shows us how things work and why they break down, taking apart and putting back together a range of small, yet fully felt lives. His overlapping worlds are mapped in prose that shimmers like hammered copper. He knows this territory well: you don’t doubt that when a certain bug shrinks the leaves of a eugenia hedge, more of a morose neighbor’s sad guitar music will bleed through.
One of the coolest things about the thirteen stories that make up this collection and makes them legitimate contenders for the title is the sense of revelation that each embodies, whether it’s a poignant insight into love or suicide or your “otherness,” or even just the quotidian awareness of being hungry after watching a lion bite off your mob boss’s head, as in S.A. Cosby’s hilarious noir, “Pantera Rex.” Each of these stories has its moment, some more subtle than others, some more dire. (Look no further than the first story, Lori D. Johnson’s “Shepherd’s Hell,” if you’re looking for “dire.”)
Luikart’s short stories are like glimpses of reality television episodes of the down-and-out and downtrodden. Each excerpt gives the reader a video clip in the mind, briefly immersing in the stories of bad parents, drug addicts, prostitutes, the suicidal, the desperately lonely, the neglected, the abandoned, the mentally ill, the grieving, and many more lost and despondent types. His writing puts one right into the desperate situations and into the brains of his characters.
Amouzegar has this fantastic manner of urging his reader to put their “ear to the wall.” He constantly lures you in, requesting that you listen closely, that you read carefully, and that you ask questions. His gift of narration is dangerously cunning as well. Between and within his stories, he experiments with points of view, using narrative gymnastics to capture the most alluring perspective. Amouzegar holds the secrets close to the chest, withholding them until three chapters later, and or even indefinitely.
Each story is a slice of life where the reader enters places and into the mind of the characters. The characters are well developed, intriguing and mysterious, some live at the margin and others think at the margin. The plots are neat and compact with good time and pacing demonstrating the skills of the writer.
Seamlessly, these stories jigsaw together to show the startling offshoots of the traditions of India: the greater freedom of husbands than wives; the camaraderie of male drinking and its hazardous spill into families; the ways wealth and poverty bedevil relationships; the unslakable appetites evoked by success; the homely places where love thrives.
Having been a person who grew up as Kannadiga in suburban Atlanta, I felt like I not only relived some of my own experiences of being Western and yet outside of the West, I also felt like I lived a lifetime with Vikram. This is one of the most potent powers of writing; to make the writer, and reader, through the imprint of a page, feel as if they were one.
These girls are still alive and living in Boston! Wisel does not make moral judgments. These stories are only meant to the show us lives we often overlook. The writing is vivid: you really do see these characters, and sometimes it’s a very uncomfortable vision.
Sommer has the ability to create believable characters and place them in real life situations, whether these situations are arranged or occur by chance. The ‘unusual’ sometimes is found in this writer’s narrative, like when she describes different types of Glutei Maximi, for those unacquainted with Latin this mean simply ‘bums’.