Press) by Sean Carswell.
Fiction, 2004. 237
Pages. This book is like the
best punk rock. It’s
instantly likeable, makes you feel great and seems simple and
uncomplicated, very much like something you’d think you could do
yourself. But also like the
finest punk rock, there are subtle, interesting layers to it that, while
most of us think it might be easy to duplicate, we just ain’t able to
even come close. The deeper I
got into Barney’s Crew, the
more I appreciated just how talented a writer Sean Carswell is.
He gives us ten short stories that are pure, entertaining and
pretty easy to relate to. I
can honestly say I liked ‘em all. While
a lot of the action takes place in the northern half of Florida (an area I
hadn’t thought too much about before reading this book), it’s still
varied enough to keep you turning the pages and looking forward to the
next story. One of my
favorites is the heartbreaking yet hilarious “Pucker Up Little
Camper.” It details the
narrator’s high school friendship with the tragically named David
Dickgraber (Dickgraber pronounces his name as if it was spelled de Graybor,
but everybody else just says it like it’s Dick Grabber).
The two pals end up going to a party in another school district
where no one knows Dick Grabber’s last name, and he’s ecstatic that he
can just be known as David to the two little cuties they end up whisking
away to a diner and a hopeful, frenzied high school coupling.
And when a couple of ‘roid-head jerkoffs from their own school
see them there, they quickly make Dickgraber’s last name public record.
This ruins everything for David, and it extinguishes the spark that
had developed when he was momentarily free of his painful moniker.
Poignant, humorous and sad. Other stories that really jumped out at
me include “Barney’s Crew” (a drunken, disgruntled group of
construction workers turn the tables on an auto dealership that has an
annoying radio ad) and “Tommy Smedley’s Nose” (ass-kickin’
real-life war hero inspires bravery against a bully, yet goes on to save
this same little bullyin’ bastid from his own beat down).
Carswell is great at taking simple phrases and
deftly using them to make us understand exactly what he means.
Barney, the crew chief in the title story, “loved the way the
shadow of his tool belt looked on the rest of his shadow as he stood on a
roof and looked down to the ground.” In “The Last Days At Fulton
County Stadium,” the narrator’s partner in crime, “like half the
women of [his] generation, is named Jennifer.”
He goes on to say, “this one wasn’t one in my top five
Jennifers. Definitely in the top ten, though.”
The book is filled with little things like this that really hit
home and make these stories such easy reads. If I could write even half as
well as Sean Carswell, I’d be one happy sumbitch. –Ben Hunter