Review by: KEN KORCZAK
There exists in America a special place where you’ll find a transition zone between two distinct cultures.
It’s a mixture of the staid, straightforward practically of Midwesterners with the wild, mysterious blend of the Deep South as shaped by the edge of the Appalachian wilderness. That location is southeast Ohio.
If a writer could capture the flavor of that unique mixture of Americana by telling the stories of ordinary people with a collection of short stories – anyone reading it would gain a certain deeper understanding of the American experience.
It would also be incredibly entertaining!
On the outside these tales would seem to be a series of coming of age “booze and boobs” vignettes featuring hormone-driven pre-adolescents and teenagers who are just waking up into a world where temptations abound – cheap wine, beer, sexy young girls, (and a few lusty older women), fast junky cars, cheap dope and the delicious discovery of that first kiss coupled with a daring grope of breast.
However, by design or accident, these stories deliver more than just surface-level entertainment. Let’s face it; each offering here is a little work of art. The writing often transcends the quality of being merely entertaining yarns to delivering that sense of:
“There is something real here that strikes a chord. I’m not sure what it is, but I can feel it.”
I can’t decide if Steve Anderson is one of those natural writer who is able to make stories like these just flow off his fingertips, or if he is one of those dogged writers, rewriters and revisers – but who cares? He writes extremely well.
Reader will quickly forget that some guy is trying to enthrall them with words because we’re swept away by each of these stories right from the first sentences, and before you know it, the story is done. Then you realize you have just forgotten that you were sitting in an uncomfortable chair squinting at words on a page because you were magically transported 35 years into the past to a small town in Ohio– it’s as if you lived a few visceral hours through the eyes and feelings of the characters.
I like writers who understand that if you just tell a story, everything else will take care of itself – and also comprehend the importance of character. Anderson’s characters pop off the page, alive, fresh and vivid, almost certainly because he based his creations on real people he knew while growing up in the 1970s.
I don’t want you to think what you’re going to get here is a lot of bland “Happy Days” nostalgia ala an idealized version of what life might have been like in 70s-era small town America. Anderson shows that, like the mean streets of Detroit, the tough hoods of New York or the gang infested barrios of Los Angeles – small towns can incubate their own festering brand of mean street cruelty.
With the cool gaze of an unflinching observer, Anderson regales us with sweat-inducing scenes, such as a man getting brutally whip-beaten with a metal car antenna; a tornado breaking the back of cow; wild-eyed southern boys pulling off the pants of a young boy in an alley and then meting out a tooth-knocking thrashing before they nearly cut off his testicles with a dirty pocket knife.
Yes, you’ll find sweetness and sentiment here, good times and laughs, but there’s also loneliness and boredom, betrayal and alienation, lust and violence – all part of an unvarnished look at the basic reality of life — delivered to your doorstep courtesy the pen of … one … savvy … wordsmith!
Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS
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