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States of Grace
Stephen Graham Jones, a much published and anthologized author, and a good friend to LitReactor. Much more info on SGJ at his website.
A collection of flash fiction, some previously published, some brand new. From SGJ’s website: “Exactly fifty stories, none longer than a thousand words, a couple just a sentence or two.”
The Father, The Son, and The Devil
Cormac McCarthy, Will Christopher Baer, and Richard Thomas (particularly his short story collection Herniated Roots).
Drunken, disorderly, and regretful dads; determined and sometimes doomed sons; protective and sometimes dead moms; complacently happy couples; dubious sound designers; and, in one instance, possibly the devil.
With many of these short tales, I was so whisked away by the language and the narratives, I didn’t really form clear pictures of the protagonists in my head (this is a good thing). However, with "The Piano Thief," which is about a shady individual who burgles your piano one piece at a time, I pictured J.T. Walsh in the role (perhaps most recognizable as the mental patient who creeps out Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade). I’m aware this is, like, the fiftieth dead actor I’ve selected for the Bookshots actor question, but do I care?
While I enjoy stories set in poor neighborhoods and brushy small towns, I don’t care to live in them (particularly since I’ve actually spent time in places like this).
After examining the facts for eight-odd years, in which both his wife and his job fell away like a second, unnecessary skin he’d never even known he had, Rick finally decided that it had been obvious, really, and, being not just rational but bound by the smallest of indicators, he had no choice but to admit that that day he’d taken his four-year old son to the beach it had, yes, been almost solely to have him dragged out by a shark.
The above sentence is but one example of SGJ’s literary prowess. That is, in fact, the first sentence of “Seafood,” and all his hooks go that way. For instance, the next story in the collection, “Cops & Robbers,” begins thusly: “My wife’s glasses were driving her crazy, so before too long she started killing people in quiet ways.” Words can’t really express the genius of a line like that. It works more like a painting—a vast visual expression that you stand back and absorb as a whole, rather than pick apart and micro-analyze. And this is the case with every word in the book.
While there are certainly stories that stood out more than others (the aforementioned “The Piano Thief,” “Seafood,” “Cobs & Robbers,” as well as “The Sadness Of Two People Meeting In A Bar,” “Bulletproof,” “Dirty Sanchez,” “Backsplash,” “The Bridge,” “Easy Money,” and last but certainly not least, the title story were personal favorites), there really aren’t any all-out stinkers here. Because this is a collection of flash fiction, States of Grace is a lightning-fast read, and yet each piece feels as fleshed-out and dense as a novel, with SGJ often spanning decades and a wide range of emotions in no time flat. You’re probably familiar with Stephen Graham Jones if you frequent this site, but if not, this is a good place to start.
Note: We usually provide an Amazon link to the book under review, but I was unable to locate States of Grace at that website. No matter, because you can buy this puppy straight from the publishers, Springgun Press, here.
Bookshots review written for LitReactor.com by Christopher Shultz