Don Noble
10:16 am
Mon September 15, 2003

Stories from the Blue Moon Cafe, Vol. II

In "A Roadside Resurrection," by Larry Brown, the first piece in Sonny Brewer's second volume of Stories from the Blue Moon Cafe, one might wish the idiot in question had been locked up by the state, but he hasn't. He's in the basement.

Stories from the Blue Moon Cafe, Vol. II

One of the bromides concerning Southern culture is that here in the South we don't institutionalize everything and everybody. In everyday terms, this means that very village comes equipped with a visible village idiot, a fellow wandering the streets drooling and mooing or at least, like Benjy Compson in The Sound and the Fury, kept at home, as part of the family. This of course ignores the historically large populations of Bryce, Milledgeville, and Whitfield, but in any case sounds humane.

In "A Roadside Resurrection," by Larry Brown, the first piece in Sonny Brewer's second volume of Stories from the Blue Moon Cafe, one might wish the idiot in question had been locked up by the state, but he hasn't. He's in the basement.

In this truly chilling story, a faith healer, the real thing, is taken to the basement of a remote farmhouse where "a large naked drooling man sits . . . in the center of the room . . . his sloped forehead furrowed in concentration."

"'We just keep him down here so he won't scare people,'" the father explains. "He sees no reason to recite the list of stray dogs and hapless cats caught and torn limb from limb, dripping joints of furred meat thrust mouthward without mayonnaise." That Larry Brown. "Without mayonnaise." What a touch. This is a terrifying story joining the religious and the grotesque as no one since Flannery O'Connor has been able.

The volume closes with a piece by William Gay, the hugely acclaimed fiction writer from Tennessee. "Homecoming" is the simple story of a cousin who decides to visit his kinswoman, simply visit after a long absence, to catch up. Often when we do that, we wish we hadn't, wish we had not learned what's new with you, how's your husband, how's business. Gay is best known for tales of the grotesque psyche such as "The Paperhanger," but this slightly gentler story is very good indeed.

This volume is a collection of 33 entries, including three poems and two essays, one by William E. Butterworth, who writes as W.E.B. Griffin, and the other on fry cooks, by John T. Edge. Otherwise, there are 28 short stories, as high in quality as you will find in any collection.

Much of the best of our Southern fiction lately has been very serious. There are few laughs and much violence in Bart Barton, Tom Franklin, some whimsy in Brad Watson, and a lot of domestic abuse in Cassandra King and Michael Morris. But some of the stories in Blue Moon II will bring a smile.

George Singleton, for example, has as his protagonist a fellow who sells high school rings for a living. He goes to a sales conference to learn that his company is now going to be selling finger ring tattoos that go under the high school ring, for when the graduate loses the ring or gets too fleshy to put it on. This development he sees as depressing and marking the further decline of Western civilization. I tend to agree.

Suzanne Hudson, who can be very funny, has here a humorous and thoughtful story, "The Seamstress," examining the social class system of Mardi Gras in Mobile with its social climbing, backbiting, jealousy, and revenge.

Many of these stories, like Singleton's and Hudson's, diverge from the old subject matter of race and religion and take up fresher, more contemporary subjects. Ron Rash, for example, in "speckled Trout," writes of the South's largest cash crop, marijuana.

Steve Yarbrough writes in "Veneer" of an unusual adultery story. The protagonist tells, like Othello, the sad story of his childhood. His friend Emily, Desdemona-like, is wooed by his narrative, and the usually redemptive power of storytelling will become the potentially destructive force of infidelity.

Taking the table of contents as the menu here at the Blue Moon Cafe, the quality of these offerings is so high, it's safe to order anything.

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