*I received a free copy of this book. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Secrets. Money. Love. Death. Sometimes they’re hard to tell apart.
Four American Tales describes a world of hopes and fears on the far side of the American Dream, in a quartet of evocative stories about love and loss, struggle and ambition from the 1950s to the present day.
‘Wichega’ is an atmospheric tale of childhood’s dreams and nightmares: when Sweet Pea and her family move far away, is it really because her father has quit the Navy, or is there something else going on – something to do with his new Oldsmobile and the monster that lives in the pond out by the highway?
‘A Hundred Ways to Live’ follows Nadine and Earle outside the Law as they travel across the desert in search of the stolen money they hope will give them a new life.
‘Ballbusters on Parade’ is an unconventional parable of work in the sex industry: Mike is persuaded by his girlfriend Yolanda to apply for a screen test. Success, however, leads him in unexpected directions.
‘Uncle Mort’ tells how a bequest gives rise to unforeseen problems. Helen and Thomas are successful and happy New Yorkers. News of her uncle’s death opens up the past and suddenly everything becomes uncertain – marriage, identity and what to do with a tumbledown house that no one wants.
All four stories feature great female characters, powerful writing and intriguing storylines – stories in which things happen and people change.
These four short stories by Jack Messenger perfectly capture the intimacy of the everyday mundane detail in all its gritty pathos.
From a young girl who doesn’t grasp the realities of the adult life she is tethered to, through a pair of thieves on the run in seedy hotel rooms and a stolen car, a successfully humiliated man who has made a living out of disappointing his father, to finally, a woman picking over the crumbs and cuttings of her own past in a relative’s death.
There is nothing overly romanticised or dramatised here. The stories are told plainly and with total realism. Each story has its own distinct voice: they could have been dictated and then transcribed from the character’s own words, and each vibrates deeply with reality: real people, real lives, real pain.
There is a common theme of secrets and truths denied. Sweet Pea creates a child’s fantasy around adult lies; Nadine and Earle search for hidden loot that may not be there; Mike hides his career from his father and the painful reality of it behind aspirational language; and Helen keeps her eyes averted from the truth she has always glimpsed from the corners of them. The ordinariness of their lives and thoughts masks, or rather highlights, the poignant emotions explored.
I highly recommend this collection to fans of well-written and thought/emotion-provoking short fiction.
Those were the good times, when the long hot days waved to me like a bunch of new friends. I’d grab a hold of their hands and be off seeing what was to be seen all about, just roaming and watching for hours ’til I was too hungry to spit and trailed home. Seemed like that summer the air was full up with heat and bugs and things blown about. All I had to do was hold out my fingers and catch life on the wing. Felt like all the joy of living was in that air, with the earth calling out to me that the world was new and all woke up.
– Jack Messenger, ‘Wichega’ in Four American Tales
Four American Tales is available now on Amazon and was FREE at the time of writing!