PRAYING DRUNK, by Kyle Minor

An award-winning short fiction author offers 12 stories so ripe with realism as to suggest a roman à clef.

“In a Distant Country” is the most affecting, ringing with the haunted truths of Shakespearean tragedy—a missionary in Haiti, his teenage bride, the Duvaliers overthrown, his death, her disappearance—a tale unfolding in six letters from witnesses. It’s the 10th tale, but don’t read it first. In sequence, the stories present a powerful reflective narrative, offering perspectives on friends, family and faith. Stories cut to the heart—a teen helps his father chop a pink piano into kindling before he “walked toward this woodpile with a loaded shotgun and blew off his head”; then the boy’s funeral is rendered through multiple stories. Then come stories of the narrator’s brother, a Nashville musician, cheated and misused, who quits, finds a good job and then quits again, “under the shadow of death, that end of all ends, and life is too short…when you could be standing under stage lights making somebody you never met before feel something.” Pain and loss range from Ohio to Tennessee to Kentucky to Florida to Haiti, with prose ringing with the hard-edged, mordant clarity of Southern writing. A preacher turns the making of biscuits into a funeral parable, and there’s more sardonic play with faith as when a character sniffs up methadone powder: “There’s the line, gone up like the rapture.” That surrealistic piece follows a bereaved father who recreates a dead son as a bionic robot to win back his wife. This brilliant collection unfolds around a fractured narrative of faith and friends and family, loved and lost, an arc of stories in which characters find reason to carry on even after contemplating a “God with agency enough to create everything…and apathy enough to let it proceed as an atrocity parade.”

There’s cynicism and despair and nihilism in the collection, certainly, but there’s courage too, and a measure of blood-tinged beauty.

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