Friday, March 28, 2014

THE GALAXIE AND OTHER RIDES, winner of the sixth Tartt First Fiction Award


Livingston Press
$10.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A dozen stories of the searing pain that being alive is for many of us. The horrors of war? Nothing compared to the horrors of hatred. The joys of sex? Nothing compared to the life sentence of parenthood, the misery of loss and abandonment that always follow.

Winner of the Tartt First Fiction Award, this collection of slices of life—sliced by blunt knives from still-living flesh—collects Sigler's bleak, clear-eyed visions of life in these United States for the first time in book form. Some stories appeared in the cream of the small magazine crop, such as Roanoke Review, Silk Road, and Copper Nickel, all of which represent the diametric opposite of Reader's Digest. Stories, my friends, are alive and well in the hands of writers like Sigler. They are still doing what the best stories have always done: Gone somewhere, done something, and made the reader experience the going and doing, and emerge changed from the trip.

My Review: A tiller of literary soil broken generations ago by such realist-mythspinners as Erskine Caldwell and Carson McCullers, Sigler finds her angles and corners in a poverty-stricken stratum of America that grows steadily (according to the census). It makes her grim visions, so angry and so hopeless as to make one wish for literary cataracts, all the more important for those of us who can afford computers and have the education to know what to do with them, and with the books we come to this place to talk about, to read and heed. She's Donald Ray Pollock and Bonnie Jo Campbell's literary love-child. The boy in the trailer on the next lot is Wells Tower.

I have one cavil with the collection as a whole. The joke here is that the stories all involve particular car models, linking the tales with the decline and fall of the US auto industry. This feels forced to me, though I must admit that having a collection of stories organized around cars made my gearhead heart warm up. But in the end, the cars are integral to the stories about half the time, and integrated into a narrative spine not at all. It won't matter to most of y'all. It was only mildly disappointing to me.

Pay attention. Truths are told here, and we all benefit from that. Read Josie Sigler's work.

“Deep, Michigan (Caprice)”--what does it mean to be a misfit gayboy with friends who rape you? “Buddies” who abuse you? What does it mean not to have a place at any table? 4.5 stars

“My Last Horse (Mustang)”--a gift of healing horses marks one woman as different, and her life's work consumes her every moment. When love finds her, how can she make the compromises and adjustments love requires when lives are at stake? 5 stars

“Chicken (Comet)”--when there is no future, why pretend the present matters? 3 stars

“Woods (El Camino)”--what happens when one smart, determined young woman escapes grinding poverty, only to return when her Iraq war veteran brother finally dies? Can she find a way to fit the past into a future she wasn't allowed to dream of having? 4 stars

“Breakneck Road (Reliant)”--when a man walking home from the liquor store with his last dollar's worth of booze finds a baby in a box abandoned by the roadside, can he leave it to die? Is taking on a child when you can't find food money at the bottom of your bottle a ticket out of Hell, or a short trip to the grave? 4.5 stars

“The Johns (Chevelle Malibu)”--when your mother turns tricks for a living, what can possibly be the last straw that forces your childhood to end? 5 stars

“The Last Trees in River Rouge Weep for Carlotta Contadino (Galaxie)”--when you have nowhere to go, can you make home mean something by betraying your fellow bottom-dwellers to get what you want? 4 stars

“Even the Crocuses (Impala)”--when a good man bores you so bad that only a bad man will keep you afloat in your bottle, can you trust yourself not to give in and sink into the mud? 3 stars

“The Ride (Hog)”--what makes a good biker chick...toughness, or the fear that if you stop you'll never make it out? 3 stars

“Tether (Town & Country)”--what can a system designed to control and intimidate expect its victims to do if not rebel...even at the cost of their lives? 4 stars

“The Black Box (Falcon)”--the existential cry, “why?” answered with “why not?” 2.5 stars, weakest in the collection

“A Man is Not a Star (Silverado)”--what happens when a man, not very bright and not very educated, but a man with love and pride in his heart for all the things he's done to build a life for his wife and daughters, finds himself unwanted and unnecessary? One man's way out is unforgettable. But you'll want to. 5 stars, the star of this show.

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