Dallas Hudgens is the author of the novels "Drive Like Hell" (Scribner, 2005), a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, and "Season of Gene" (Scribner, 2007), a Book Sense Notable, and the short-story collection "Wake Up, We're Here" (Relegation Books, 2012). He lives in Virginia.
I was excited to learn of this collection because Dallas Hudgens wrote two of my favorite novels, Drive Like Hell: A Novel and Season of Gene: A Novel. Both are great comic novels and I put the latter in my "holy trilogy" of great portraits of male camaraderie along with the film Diner and Tom Perrotta's novel The Wishbones. But here Hudgens departs from the comic to offer darker and often tragic portraits of down and out characters. Many of them are isolated because of failed relationships or personal tragedies. Interestingly many of them have special circumstances that enable them to avoid a typical 9 to 5 work life but their lack of jobs only adds to their isolation, which they generally use alcohol or drugs to deal with. While that may seem depressing, the book is far from the bleak portraits offered by Denis Johnson or Donald Ray Pollock. Most of the characters are still leading middle class lives - albeit on the lower end -- and Hudgens comic touch still lightens things when necessary. He writes clean crisp sentences that always ring true and are chockful of insightful observations. All of these pieces are straightforward, well-told tales, without any of the experimental or surrealistic entries some short story writers like to add to the mix (and which I'm happy to see absent here!)
The 10 stories in the collection are:
1. Target - 21 pp - A man who's a musician and con artist has to deal with a botched attempt to run a scam at a department store and a recently discovered daughter who has a crippling fear of getting caught in a flash flood.
“If you're going to ask questions, you better be ready to hear the truth.”
Let this be a warning and a promise to readers: Dallas Hudgens asks questions and delivers truths in profound and subtle ways in this collection of brilliant stories. Read them one at a time, not all in a row, and let your brain savor the language, the layered complexities, and the laughter in the pain.
Many of these stories are about people trying to find a better version of themselves when there's more momentum moving against them than seems reasonable or fair—and then discovering, suddenly, that they’re on the other side, and that there can be peace within and after disaster. At the same time, the characters are not always self-aware enough to recognize the larger forces of change in their lives, or to recognize what part they play in effecting that change for themselves—but because Dallas has done his work so well, we can see everything the characters can’t.
When people describe writing as tackling “what it means to be human,” or as being about characters who are “deeply human,” this seems to mean that the makeup of our flaws and how we handle them, and how we handle the flaws of others impinging on our world, are what make us who we are. Though these stories are (as the book blurb teases) about people who are deeply flawed, they're also about people whose flaws make them impossibly real to us, and because of that, impossible not to love. A character might have moved *one inch* from their starting point by the story's end, but it was a hard-earned inch—and sometimes an inch is all it takes.
The stories in this book make exceptional use of their brief lengths to paint beautifully detailed portraits. By the end of each story, you know the hell out of who these people are.Read more ›
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