Secrets. Money. Love. Death. Sometimes they’re hard to tell apart.
‘Each of the stories in this compelling collection works so well in its own right, while taken together the tales form marvellous variations on the theme of knowing, not knowing and fighting against knowing when the truth is unpalatable … a memorable collection.’ (Amazon reviewer)
Four American Tales describes a world of hopes and fears on the far side of the American Dream, in a quartet of evocative stories about love and loss, struggle and ambition from the 1950s to the present day. ‘Wichega’ is an atmospheric tale of childhood’s dreams and nightmares: when Sweet Pea and her family move far away, is it really because her father has quit the Navy, or is there something else going on – something to do with his new Oldsmobile and the monster that lives in the pond out by the highway? ‘A Hundred Ways to Live’ follows Nadine and Earle outside the Law as they travel across the desert in search of the stolen money they hope will give them a new life. ‘Ballbusters on Parade’ is an unconventional parable of work in the sex industry: Mike is persuaded by his girlfriend Yolanda to apply for a screen test. Success, however, leads him in unexpected directions. ‘Uncle Mort’ tells how a bequest gives rise to unforeseen problems. Helen and Thomas are successful and happy New Yorkers. News of her uncle’s death opens up the past and suddenly everything becomes uncertain – marriage, identity and what to do with a tumbledown house that no one wants. All four stories feature great female characters, powerful writing and intriguing storylines – stories in which things happen and people change. And there’s a link to a bonus story!
‘Jack Messenger’s first collection of stories throws up an eclectic mix of characters and situations, binding the tales together with themes of love and loss, struggle and ambition. The possibilities of starting again feature in the first two stories: ‘Wichega’ finds a classic automobile prodding a child into imagining what might be happening to her family when they move to a new town. The search for stolen loot and possibility of a fresh start, carry ex-con Earle and his patient girlfriend Nadine across the dessert, in ‘A Hundred Ways to Live’. In ‘Ballbusters on Parade’, we focus on the sex industry when a man discovers he has a particular asset that could change his life – but will it enable him to hang on to his girlfriend? In the final story, ‘Uncle Mort’, Helen inherits property, but her relationship with her husband opens up the rift between them as they strive to work out what to do with a run-down house.‘Featuring mainly strong female characters who face challenges that could change their lives, this is a fascinating collection that demonstrates a talent for language and character. The ‘voices’ in each story are very different, which often signifies a highly talented writer. In this case, the author shows he can write intelligently and inventively in a variety of styles while still keeping his audience engrossed.‘It’s always nice to jump on the literary train at the start, and I’ll be looking forward to Jack Messenger’s next book with relish.’
Interesting characters and stories. In the foreword the author indicates that one of his aims with the stories is to “provoke thought.” The stories certainly did that with me. They have characters and storylines that make you wonder, sometimes forcing you to read between the lines and, in doing so, making the story your own since your interpretation will be different than mine. A good, fast read.