Steve Carr’s first collection of short stories is fantastic. His work is intense, reaching into the reader’s head and twisting emotions, shattering logic and reason. The first story Tenderloin is—pun intended—a punch in the gut, as the reader sees the grittiness of the setting and feels the coiled tension in the main character, a veteran of the Iraq War. With journalistic expertise, Carr displays monstrous humanity in a brevity of words, as in The Saguaro Two Step, in which the woman wins the loot in the end, and exposes desperation, as in The Festival of The Cull, wherein Shamina can no longer vote on who is to be terminated. Reality bends as one ventures further into the book, as in the self-explanatory The Girl in a Mason Jar, gets fishy in Strange Water, and disappears in When Wizards Sing, where animals and men blend. The stories are diverse, with main characters of various genders, sexual orientations, ages, cultures, and even species. The book ends with stories of the afterlife on a never-ending train ride for incorrigibles, a man’s struggle for gravity, and the misplaced hope of a senior citizen. Definitely a must-read! Follow Steve on Facebook and Twitter. Purchase Sand at Lulu.com or Amazon.com.
Ben Jones delivers necessities to the “desert rats” along the way to a small, isolated town in Utah. He keep his business to himself and ask his customers no questions. One day, while getting gas at the usual station, the owner informs him that he was left a package at one of the pumps. A man Ben knows only from tire purchases has left his child, guarded by a big dog. He can’t leave them out in the winter weather. As he prepares to leave the station, his “it’s complicated” neighbor rushes her baby to him to watch for the day. He now has two children and a dog to take on his treacherous drive to deliver items necessary to survival to the people whose experiences have led them to choose a life in a harsh climate away from society. The tale reads like a day in the life of Ben Jones as he interacts with characters who barely accept him for practical purposes, though this seems a non-typical day with the children, and then his friend, the “preacher,” a victim of hit-and-run. The story moves away from the surprise babysitting, down the path of mystery driver investigation, returning to the child at the end.
Ben learns more than he cares to know about the desert rats on this day, as though he’s hit a day of revelation. The child’s father ends up murdered, as does the station owner, who was part of a tire smuggling ring. This had turned into a child smuggling ring under the leadership of the out-of-town partner, a secret son of one of the desert rats. There was no clarity on the purpose of either of those criminal activities. Ben’s statement that he didn’t care to understand leaves the reader in the dark too. There’s a running reference to UPS and Fedex truck drivers who drifted from the highway during a snowstorm, but somehow found each other way out in the desert, huddling together to stay warm until rescued. This seemed to be the setup for Ben somehow finding the child in the desert after she runs away, although he specified repeatedly that she ran northeast and he figured out that he’d mistakenly gone west, so judgment cannot suspend. Saying that, the story is worth reading for all the fascinating characters, their speculative reasons for living in the desert, and their volatile interactions with Ben ad each other. Tension hangs in the environment like air….always there.
I received a copy through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.
After the death of his son, Judge Coleman uses his influence and connections to foster and adopt 9-year-old African-American Anton, convincing his mother Anton is happier with the Colemans. She’d been kidnapped and drugged by her dealer, leaving Anton locked in their apartment during a heat wave with little food, until he escaped a week later, unaware of his mother’s whereabouts. Judge Coleman’s position and wealth boost Anton up through the ranks of politics, with Anton choosing to have no contact with a mother he believes rejected him. The secrets seep out eventually, damaging the Coleman’s marriage and Anton’s relationships with all of his parents, as Anton desperately tries to determine his identity.
The crux of the story is that a black mother’s son is stolen from her by a white man, whiffs of slavery nipping at her heels. As Umrigar presents white privilege and systemic racism within the judicial system, she attempts to garner sympathy for a man in a powerful position based on the loss of his son and his emotional distress debating his desire to have a child and the ethical choice to keep a family together. He chooses poorly and everyone struggles with his decision.
Vanessa struggles to move on after her divorce from a self-made, influential businessman. She recalls him controlling her every move. He recounts her episodes of irrational behavior that led to his decision to divorce her. The journey to the truth bends back upon itself time and again as Vanessa reaches out to her replacement to warn her.
The cliffhangers skillfully expose each character. The writing is so tight that there’s no unraveling the narrative to reveal these secrets too soon. I love the unconventional ending that brings everyone back down to earth.
Readers who love unreliable narrators, complicated romance, and impossible situations will enjoy this story.
Thank you to Netgalley.com for the opportunity to read this ARC.