"The electric sign from the Krafton Bowl and Lounge was a vibrant white square atop a tall post. Set back from the road, the lounge's roof and all but one wall had collapsed. Smoldering lumber jutted from charred brick. Bowling lanes lay exposed to the night, and in the lane oil lapped tiny spectral flames like a riot of hummingbirds."
Alan Heathcock's collection of short stories about an imagined town, somewhere, one assumes, in middle America, is most easily described as dark, or maybe tragic. The first story in the collection begins with a man accidentally killing his own son in a farming accident. I mean, pretty dark, right? The collection almost made my top ten of the year, but it wasn't an easy read. Heathcock creates a deep sense of foreboding and incredible tension. His descriptions are like living things (I mean, "a riot of hummingbirds"), and the experience of reading is almost cinematic. It's good guys, like REALLY good.
The content of the stories varies. Some of my favorite stories in the collection feature the town's woman Sheriff, who is one of the most astutely drawn female characters that I've recently encountered in fiction. There are murders, and journeys, and ruminations on war and poverty. Heathcock creates a sense of oppressive insularity in his fictional town, Krafton. What struck me the most was the characterization of young boys in the novel. Young boys become violent men, perhaps, in an environment such as this one, and so they hold a sort of terrifying potential. And it was this potential, for violence and disintegration, that seemed to haunt the whole book, making my nerves edgy even when nothing seemed to be happening.
I had to read the book slowly, because I couldn't take it in all at once. I mean this as a great compliment. Heathcock very successfully manipulates the reader's emotions and transports her to a place that doesn't exist geographically, but certainly seems to emotionally. I highly recommend this book.
Title: VoltAuthor: Alan Heathcock
Publisher/Price: Graywolf Press, $15.00
Genre: Short Stories
Where I got it: I won it from The Next Best Book Club Book Blog
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