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Mon June 30, 2008
Oh Don't You Cry for Me: Stories
The rednecks in this volume are sweaty and petty and frightening--not attractive or romantic, nor salt of the earth types, at all. And they seem to favor the Dodge Ram truck, for what that's worth.
By Don Noble
Philip Shirley, native Alabamian, has been successful in the advertising and public relations business for many years, but, almost as if he were a lawyer, has had an irrepressible desire to write fiction. Oh Don't You Cry for Me is Shirley's first collection, and it is a perfectly respectable debut.
There are nine stories, all set in Alabama except for a couple set over in Mississippi, none at the country club. These are not experimental, or post-modern, or metafictional stories. They are just plain stories, clearly told. On the one hand, no new ground is broken in this volume. On the other hand, they have some pace and action, and many readers will find these short stories accessible, understandable, and satisfying.
The first story, "Charisma," is told from the female point of view. A girl named Charisma been raped, it seems, and struck by a horny country preacher in a Cadillac. Quickly the reader learns it may not be the preacher after all who is being used. The second, likewise, has a kind of O. Henry ending. In "To Be Loved in Skyline," Sherrie works as a nursing assistant for Dr. Johnson, who "takes advantage" of her in the office. Her idiot boyfriend, Duane, is obsessed with traveling around country roads posing dead armadillos with Pabst Blue Ribbon cans in their claws. Duane, unfortunately, has already reproduced once, and Sherrie is, alas, with child but doesn't know whose it is. Sherrie's mother sees the main chance and Dr. Johnson, the exploiter, becomes the exploited one.
The rednecks in this volume are sweaty and petty and frightening--not attractive or romantic, nor salt of the earth types, at all. And they seem to favor the Dodge Ram truck, for what that's worth. In "Robert Earl and W.C.," the reader learns never to hire the redneck; he is drunk and unreliable, even ineducable. These are awful characters who behave badly and do not learn from their experiences. They achieve no moral growth or insight. It is hard to like them or not look down on them. In the long concluding story, 42 pages, "The Consequence of Summer Heat," the reader learns it would be wise to fear and avoid them.
It begins: "Lanny Pritchard watched from the hood of his Dodge Ram...." Lanny is big, muscular, and just back from a stint with the Marines in Iraq where he killed seven people up close and took their rings. From the beginning, this story has a James Dickey Deliverance tone; the lady lawyer from Huntsville and her entirely civilized boyfriend, John, are out in the backwoods. The reader knows it cannot go well for them, and it doesn't, but through some misdirection the reader believes for a while that the wrong country boy is the psychopath.
"The Downtown Club" is a nice little morality tale. A furious mom coolly gets revenge on her daughter's rapist. In "The Story of William P. Green," the title character is eaten by an alligator, and in "A Death in the Family," a thoroughly depressed daughter goes to the hospital, perhaps to perform a mercy killing on her dying mom, but changes her mind about who should die.
In "The Turkey Hunt," two brothers are in love with the same woman. Jack is married to Donna. C. J. is just back from serving as a Ranger in Afghanistan. They are out in the woods alone with guns. The situation is tense. We know pretty much the range of choices about what might happen, but still, it does take an awful lot of love for a woman to kill your own brother in cold blood.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.