From Publishers Weekly
Singleton returns to the small South Carolina town where he set his acclaimed first novel, Novel
, for this delightfully obsessive collection of stories, which reads like a group celebration of the excess and eccentricities found in the tiny Southern hamlet of Gruel. The only common element: a shared preoccupation with staying put in, getting out of, coming home to and passing through Gruel. From the owner of Roughhouse Billiards, who sells hot dogs, to the proprietor of the army-navy surplus store, who hawks gas masks as Valentine's Day gifts, the citizens of Gruel form a backdrop against which the more transient characters—the women's studies major who visits to compete in the town's car decorating contest; the freelance indexer fired for listing Republicans under "Idiotic behavior"—stand out in sharper relief for their quirky loneliness and creative longings. Singleton is so careful to include references to Southern literary life and the short story form that some exchanges feel rigged, but in the book's quiet moments, his people hit a tragicomic zenith. (June)
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Usually stories about small, quirky, southern towns are full of adorable, quirky characters that share their unusual philosophies with us and teach us how to enjoy life (think Forrest Gump
or even Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
). Gruel may be small, southern, and quirky, but it is also as miserable as its name sounds. The inhabitants are miserable. Even people from as far away as New York who happen to stop by Gruel are miserable. There are miraculous dogs, which die. Fun-sounding car-art shows during which people are maimed, and many more normal kinds of misery. The misery that pervades almost every story in this collection and Singleton's unique style act as a literary train wreck; you may want to stop reading, but you are compelled not to. Fortunately, the writing is good enough that the misery becomes somehow enjoyable. Marta SegalCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved