My favorite reads of 2014…
1.) Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer
This is billed as a story about father’s and sons and it is, it is also a hard-hitting rural noir, a crime story, and a how to write a story story. Patterson Wells is a mess not even really trying to recover from the death of his young son, a death that likely could have been prevented, no, he’s just trying to get through the day, and if the sun comes up in the morning, then he’ll deal with that. And so it is that an unlikely and unintentional friendship haphazardly develops between Patterson and Junior, the son of his not exactly a friend neighbor Henry, in close to the middle of leave- us- the- hell- alone- out- here-we’re dealing with things- nowhere. Patterson’s broken relationships mirror Juniors broken relationships, but these two men don’t care in a very different way. While Patterson is well aware of his own pain and that its having made him particularly empathetic to other wounded souls or those in unfortunate situations and that that may not be the best thing judging by how much trouble it keeps leading to while he’s trying to help, sort of, Junior hasn’t felt any pain in a long time and is just living to burn, running drugs, and tearing up as many people along the way as Patterson seems to be trying to do the right thing by. This is some hard-hitting stuff, graphic and gritty, there’s a body count happening, though not gratuitous, the writing is clean, the story moves, and as unfathomable as some of the situations seem, Benjamin Whitmer sells it, he tells the story well enough that you could completely see how one thing could lead to another and isn’t that how those messes happen? I mean, it isn’t like anyone plans for it to all go perfectly wrong. I wanted to keep reading it and get back to it whenever I put this book down. This story and writing has been compared to the likes of Cormac McCarthy, it’s better than that.
2.) Not For Nothing by Stephen Graham Jones
This is a detective story. However it’s a detective story done in a particular style that we don’t often see so much anymore. First of all, it’s written in the second person, you understand what I’m saying? So you pick up this book and you’re not sure what to expect, well this too is rural noir, only Nick Bruiseman was done being a detective and he’s not exactly a private eye either or maybe he’s not even private eye material anymore, he’s on the skids and back in the town that he grew up in having taken a job that was really kind of given to him as a favor, managing a storage facility, and you can tell how interested in that he is from the get go. In walks Gwen Tracy, former high school femme- fatale with her cheerleader knees, only she isn’t Gwen Tracy anymore, you see? She’s Gwen Gates, all grown up now, and wife of Rory, and she’s got some troubles that she can’t exactly take to the local authorities, and she won’t exactly elaborate, so this dame walks into his office and she’s scared, she needs someone she can trust, someone she can count on, you get the picture? Then in walks Rory Gates, because, you know, he thinks there’s something going on with his wife and an ex-con she was maybe teaching the finer points of English to and he can’t exactly go to the authorities either. Never mind that there was something, for a moment, between Nick and Gwen, way back when, and that Sherilita, who’s maybe keeping an eye on things from her lunch counter, could likely really tell you what time the last tumbleweed crossed the road and exactly who with. Never mind who Sherilita’s ex-husband is and how that happened. This is a story about trust and about betrayal, a complex, nuanced story about the intricacies of relationships, small town talk, the details folding back over themselves in Jones’ trademark subtle prose, revealing a-ha moments as we understand all of the things that none of them would say.
3.) How To Take A Bullet by Hollie Hardy
I heard Hollie Hardy read from this book at Beast Crawl in Oakland this past July and I knew that I was going to buy a copy. “These poems in this collection have titles ruthlessly appropriated from The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook.” Damn it! That is so right up my alley, damn it! Why didn’t I think of that? Because she got to it first and she did it so right. Page after page of poignant, often humorous, hard-hitting, heart breaking, thought-provoking, poems that made me want to sit down and start writing new poems. There were things in this book that are so familiar to me… “In the crackling after math, become a liquid …” from “How To Survive When Lost In The Desert” to the tough ending of “How to Treat Frostbite” which reads “A sky gallops across your brow, You are asleep in your bed, On fire, In the Winter of your history lesson” and that may be my favorite poem in the book, to the irreverent “How To Detangle a Bird Caught In Your Hair” which begins… “First you have to have hair, This trend toward baldness negates the problem…” Poets are the front line purveyors of language, poets do not just write words, poets create words, and new uses for words, poets provide us with comprehension of meaning and the expression of value in a deeper way and they tend to do that using fewer words to say more than in other forms of literature, this collection has all of that and then some. Completely loved it.
So that’s my list of favorite books that I read in 2014.