Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Why The Long Face? Stories by Ron MacLean

Why The Long Face? Stories by Ron MacLean (Swank Books POBOX 30016 Jamaica Plain, Ma. 02130) $15.

Somerville writer Pagan Kennedy emailed me about a new book "Why The Long Face?" of short stories by local writer Ron MacLean, who used to direct Grub Street. (A writing school now located in Boston). MacLean reminds me of the well-regarded fiction writer Timothy Gager, whose work deals with the ying and yang of relationships, existential crises of men in their early middle age, with liberal use of the Boston-area environs for a backdrop for his fiction.

The lead story “Aerialist” deals with a man who recently lost his wife due to illness, and how he and his young daughter deal with this tragedy. The daughter takes to walking a tightrope, much to her dad’s bemusement. The father learns from the girl’s aerial alchemy to let go of the past and move on, and to let his daughter stand on her own two small feet:

“Kate, turned, her back to me. Took three steps away and hurled her herself backward, into air, into sky, legs gently propelling, upside down, floating, above the rope, my body resisting the urge to leap forward, to catch her, her feet spinning back to earth…Katie’s face a big, blurry grin. In her element. Where did this come from? Where will it lead? I can’t answer these questions. What I can do is wait for Katie land, and hold her while she’s here.”

There is a lot of local color in this book. Characters drink at Bukowski’s, a watering hole in Inman Square. They hang in my favorite barbecue joint Redbone’s, in Davis Square, etc… In this selection, we have a right on description of Bukowski’s, a bar whose patrons might have driven “the dirty old man” of letters to even more libations:

“The bar is called Bukowski’s, which is unfortunate, and it is populated by young men—late twenties—early thirties. You wouldn’t believe the goatees. Excuse me, Van Dykes. Most of these guys are in advertising and already lost.”

As in most collections, some stories are strong and others less so. MacLean can obviously spin a story. You may have the nagging feeling you have read stuff like this before—but, hey—a little more won’t hurt you.

Doug Holder/ Ibbetson Update

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