by Phillip Gardner
Boson Books, 2013
226 pages (Kindle)
Source: ARC from the publisher
Gardner’s third short story collection is set primarily in South Carolina, with a side trip to Vegas, and the Southern Gothic influence is clear. Jim and Dottie Goldfish, Pepsi Cola Hickman, and the other characters that populate these stories are oddball to the core. I have little in common with them, but all it takes is a rerun of the This American Life “Rest Stop” episode, where reporters spend two days interviewing random people at a rest area on the New York State Thruway, to verify that these misfits are far from unlikely. There’s the guy who rescues injured rabbits until they overtake his trailer, the guy who fakes his 14-year-old girlfriend’s murder so they can run away together, the attorney who accepts payment in drinks at the strip club, and the woman who enlists strangers to sabotage her ex’s wedding. Some of the narrative arcs are so brief that I feel a little left in the dark about the situation, but the characters’ groping for love and understanding leave a mark. Burnouts and trouble makers, the bereaved and the lonely, the laid off and the post-traumatic-stressed, Gardner uses the distorted shadows of individual lives to reveal the excruciatingly common desires and disappointments of modern Americans.
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