by Jim Ruland. Fiction, 2005. 189 pages.
I read most of this book of short stories while uncomfortably
waiting to see whether I’d be called for jury duty in Boston’s
Dorchester District Court. Happily, I didn’t get stuck on a trial this
time (Hey Judgmental Muthafucka, I know it’s my civic duty, but I got
things to see and people to do, nome sayin?). As I filed out of the
courtroom after almost ending up on a drunk driving proceeding, it struck
me that Jim Ruland probably would’ve been able to turn the depressing he
said/he said saga of shifty looking teen versus burly state cop I nearly
presided over into something a lot more interesting than it actually was.
The man has a gift for telling great, surreal yet somehow hyper-real
tales, and I picture him using this as an inspiration to, say, set the
trial at a keg party. Or maybe change the premise entirely and recast O.J.
Simpson in the current Saddam Hussein crimes against humanity trial.
Or, in actuality, something that’s probably a hundred times more
interesting than these scenarios. I know you get my drift, though.
Some of the best stories in Big
Lonesome take place in the past but resonate with an immediacy that
makes me feel like I’m right there, right now. “Night Soil Man” is
the heartbreaking tale of Belfast zoo keepers forced to kill their beloved
animals to prevent them from escaping and ravaging people during a World
War II air raid. And the story that gives this book its title chronicles
an Old West jailbreak and the resulting aftermath, and it somehow manages
to make a hero out of a studly Frankenstein-like creature who ultimately
saves the downtrodden teenage protagonist.
The present day narratives are generally just as appealing.
“Kessler Has No Lucky Pants” details the recent life and times of a
self-absorbed, underachieving, poorly dressed office worker who gets
involved in a highly problematic adulterous affair.
It’s presented as a Q&A, and I think this is a brilliant way
to spin this yarn. And there’s quite a bit of this sense of drama and
black humor throughout the entire book. I’d be fibbin’ if I told you I
loved all 13 stories (a few of the endings leave me a slight bit
unsatisfied), but for the most part this book is quite an engrossing, fun
read. –Ben Hunter