Saturday, October 2, 2010

Harley McIlrath's New Collection of Short Stories: Possum Trot

J. Harley McIlrath. Possum Trot. North Liberty, Iowa: Ice Cube Books, 2010
Reviewed by T. Hatch

In the interest of full disclosure Harley McIlrath is an acquaintance mine.  He is a dealer of books and I am a junkie.  It is also worth mentioning that historically my attitude towards literary criticism has been quite reactionary, i.e. if you have a problem with a work of fiction, shut up and write your own. Anyway...

Naturally when I picked up my copy of Possum Trot I thought it was about a timid alternative to Joseph Stalin. Instead the eponymous story Possum Trot, which differs from the rest of the included stories in its pronounced surreality, seemed like a synthesis of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and William Faulkner albeit in overalls.

Possum Trot is a collection of short stories about rural Iowa, historical memory, and a sense of dark apprehension associated with the not-so-distant past.  These stories are clearly neither nostalgic nor do they uncritically celebrate a less complicated time on the 'ol family farm. There is no reminiscing about hayrides or the authentic taste of homemade ice cream. The stories are about grandpa suppressing his guilt over the death of his young wife by lashing out, years later, at his grandson; about a boy surreptitiously assisting his abusive father's “suicide”; about a man facing rabies shots because a meth cookers' monkey bit him while sitting in a bar.

It is an oversight of mine that I do not spend a little more time reading short stories.  McIlrath's work is evidence of the continued validity of this genre.

From the Book Review:
You can find more information about this book at the publisher's Web site

If you are in Grinnell, come to see McIlrath read from his new book on November 11, 8:00 p.m., JRC 101.

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