All-American Stories of Walter Mosley, Matthew Baker and Ron Rash

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WHY VISIT AMERICA
Stories
By Matthieu Baker
354 pages. Holt. $ 27.99.

In the title story of Baker’s new collection, “Why Visit America,” a small town in Texas announced in 2018 that it was seceding from the United States and renaming itself America. Its citizens embark on the nation-building project: hoisting a flag, composing a national anthem, establishing a currency, choosing leadership, even going so far as to host a summit of other micronations.

The rest of the world either doesn’t notice or care, and America’s provocations go unnoticed by its old country. One resident, Sam (as the mascot of the neighboring country), refuses to accept secession, continuing to celebrate July 4 and ultimately leading a misguided violent rebellion.

When Sam is discovered setting off the Independence Day fireworks on his own, he is reprimanded by a troop of loyalists. “This is America. These fireworks don’t make you a patriot here. These fireworks make you a traitor,” said one of them. “If you like America , if you love them so much there, then go live there. “

It’s a tale of several satirical and comedic masterpieces, Baker at his best. The premises of the “Why Visit America” ​​stories are increasingly inventive and clever, often presenting a sort of reversal of our current social order, offering an allegorical commentary on who we are as Americans. In “Testimony of Your Majesty”, for example, we find a world where the ostensibly rich opulent consumers are looked down upon by the poor and frugal. In another story, memory erasure replaces incarceration, and a man who has committed a heinous crime must adjust to a new life without a past.

Baker’s premises are all intriguing and starting to show promise, but his stories often get bogged down in the setup, explaining the mechanics of the worlds he created. As the narratives grow larger, the vanities wear out their welcome, and the author seems to lose sight of his characters and their distinct struggles against the forces of their societies.

IN THE VALLEY
Stories and a short story based on “Serena”
By Ron Rash
224 p. Double day. $ 26.95.

With “In the Valley” Rash presents a catalog of broken people trying to survive under the weight of their self-abuse, often through drugs or alcohol – or simply the abuse the world imposes on them.

In “Sad Man in the Sky”, a crumpled man walks up to a helicopter operator and offers money to collect for a pass over a certain neighborhood. The man is circumspect in his reasons, and while he is in the air, he asks the operator to fly over a house so that he can rain toys from the sky on the children he loves but cannot. not see, like some kind of Santa Claus.

It’s a bad idea for a number of reasons, and at first the pilot hesitates, but after hearing the narrator’s reasoning – he defines his project as a project of love and reconciliation – the pilot reconsiders. It’s not that it’s not a bad idea yet, it’s that it’s a bad idea that the pilot understands, and can even relate to.

“Too many memories have been awakened,” said the pilot, reflecting on the flight of the day, “including times I was in the air wondering if I would ever see my family again.”

The power of Rash’s stories is in those little moments of connection amid all the noise of breakup and heartbreak.

Rash writes with straightforward precision that puts the reader at ease. Here’s a storyteller who not only knows his characters, but also knows every detail around them. Rash ends the book with the main short story, based on his 2008 novel, “Serena”. In the short story, North Carolina loggers struggle to complete a dangerous project in an unrealistic time frame. Rash maintains the linguistic precision of the novel, but the contrast to the even more spared prose of the stories that precede it makes the increased space and character cast of the short story feel somewhat hazy.

THE BAD BLACK MAN
Stories
By Walter Mosley
328 pages. Grove. $ 26.

The title of Mosley’s latest collection of stories, “The Clumsy Black Man,” is both an accurate descriptor and yet only hints at the wide range of people we find in the pages of the book. If Rash’s collection presents us with broken people settling back into place, Mosley’s offers us an atlas of quirky black men.

Reading these stories makes you feel like you are sitting with a gifted storyteller as he tells stories about the weird people who live in his mind. The prolific Mosley revels in the wonderfully bizarre. In “Pet Fly”, Rufus Coombs confides his work problems to his (yes) pet fly, Andrew. Unusually for this collection, the premise takes a while to unfold and then the author doesn’t do much.

In “Cut, Cut, Cut”, Marilee Frith-DeGeorgio meets Martin Hull on a blind date. Like many of the men in the book, Hull is emotionally reserved, even sterile. He recounts being cheated on in a previous relationship with a detachment bordering on nonchalance. Martin tells Marilee that he is a plastic surgeon, although his real interest is in neurology. He says things like, “Every now and then I close my eyes and stop thinking for about 10 minutes, but life is very short and we have a duty to future generations to make this world a better place.” . So I stay awake as much as possible trying to finish my work before the saying of mortality claims my soul. “

When a detective approaches Marilee as part of an investigation into the murders of Martin’s wife and her lover, she begins to spy on Martin, as a police informant. Turns out her secret is bigger than Marilee or the reader might have expected. The same could be said of the men throughout the collection: each protagonist seems simple and often superficial on the surface, but as the story progresses it unfolds in greater and frankly mind-blowing complexity.


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