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Askew Review 15

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(Gorsky 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




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