I’M ON A TREASURE HUNT. I’m tired of hearing people say there are “no good books left.” Yes, the market is inundated right now, but I’m on a mission to find the best literary fiction out there provided by the “little guys.” I’m digging through the muck to find rare gems: meaningful and culturally significant literature that engages and says something more than vampire love.

Today the book market is dominated by Amazon and big publishing houses, so I want to give a nod to the small presses who are fighting the good fight. ALL the books I read here have been published by small presses and (whenever possible) purchased from local bookstores.

You won’t find negative reviews here. The market is too vast to waste anyone’s time with bad reviews. Rather, you will find that I am selective about the books I read, and if I don’t like something, I won’t review it. In other words, I won’t give you the dirt, only the plunder.

I will be posting quarterly book recommendations for writers, avid readers, and anyone who thinks good literature is dead. I will also have "Throwback Thursdays" to show some of my old book collection to promote the preservation of classic stories and the art of beautiful bookbinding.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Andretti in the El Camino" by Terrance Manning, Jr.

Today I'm going to switch it up a little. I'm not going to review a book but a short story - a worthwhile story nonetheless. After reading "Andretti in the El Camino," I immediately subscribed to Boulevard Magazine. I think it's important to support these publications for their cultural value - and like small book publishers, they too are fighting the good fight! Through their intensive review process, many of these small magazines uphold the cultural integrity of storytelling. I highly recommend subscribing to at least one literary magazine to follow up-and-coming writers, new styles and ideas, and see what you need to live up to (if you're a writer).

You can read Terrance Manning, Jr.'s story here.

Manning's imagery is strong from the beginning - depicting a hardass (and a bit unhinged) father, three resentfully obedient sons, and a reticent mother. The story revolves around Jay, a young man who is trying to connect with his father long after his death. He has a job removing asbestos in buildings - asbestos that his father once installed back in the day, asbestos that ended up killing him - and in his spare time, he's restoring his dad's old El Camino.

Yes, this is a motif that has been expressed a million times…a son must live with his father's mistakes long after he is gone and overcome the age-old battle of understanding who he is, and his manhood, through his father's legend. But Manning tells this story with care, attention to detail, irony, and depth. He adds internal complexity to a storyline that risks being cliché - but there are no cliché's in Manning's writing, just well-developed characterization and several hard-hitting realizations.

For months, Jay thinks he has come down with Mesothelioma from the asbestos, like his father. In the end, he wonders: "Maybe I had what my father had, that I could, for some reason, inherit it from him." This strikes hard as a metaphor for the qualities and lessons we inherit from our parents - the good, the bad. And even the bad qualities can ring with nostalgia. Jay often works without a mask, breathing in the asbestos, imagining it's his father's breath.

Above all, I love the juxtaposition of character memory. Jay recalls his father as erratic, unsettled, and angry, while his mother and uncle remember him as a "good man" with spirit and imagination. One person can have many faces in a lifetime, and each of us can impact the people close to us in so many different ways. By the end of the story, we see Jay's memory has transformed simply because he wills it to.

As for Andretti (a world champion racer) driving El Camino, he symbolizes yet another part of the father's legend; someone father and son both aspire to be, in some way, through the ownership of that car. The question is, will Jay ever be able to restore it, or will he find solace in memory, imagination?