Troubling topics and triggering language abound in this tight, potent collection, as do strong opening lines and cliffhangers: “So at a garage sale awhile back Paw Paw and I got a cast iron skillet for two bucks,” one chapter starts, exemplifying a prose style that remains conversational no matter how heavy the subject matter. Gherardi’s characters often talk about each other but only rarely dive into their own emotions as they endure the book’s relentless succession of traumatic events. At times, though, that tendency and (for the most part) a lack of connection between those events and how each of the protagonists ultimately ends up serves to obscure greater themes beyond shock and disgust.
However, that’s not true for all of Gherardi’s children of violence. Robbie’s arc is terribly affecting as it's clear how his situation affects his treatment of his little brother, his own life choices, and, ultimately, his end, as the conclusion to his story doubles as the book’s smart and heartbreaking final chapter. Readers will find themselves having to fill in some emotional and thematic gaps in this series of proudly sordid narratives, but spotting the threads that connect these lives does prove satisfying.
Takeaway: Fans of short, gritty stories that are unafraid to touch on almost every heavy subject will want to brave this succinct collection.
Great for fans of: Nelson Algren, Kate Walbert’s His Favorites.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: B+