Saturday, August 29, 2009


We could all use a little work. Even the most "normal" of us could use a good dose of psycho therapeutic reflection or cognitive behavioral manipulation. Especially the moms. Whether it's the hormones or the sudden overwhelming sense of responsibility and neurosis, I know I've had more than my fair share of nervous breakdowns since I saw that first blue plus sign on a stick.

WOMEN UP ON BLOCKS The title itself conjures a powerful image. Set aside the immediate mental flash of stirrups and invasive annual examination. Look at the cover art (good shoes) because in this case you can judge a book yada yada yada. Like meandering by the tv in lingerie during playoffs, red shoes and good legs propped along a dirty bumper ought to get you noticed. Women in these stories go to extremes to get noticed, allow themselves and others to go to extremes to fix themselves, and extreme things occur to teach them a lesson. The content of the stories are as strong as the imagery. The plots are at once relatable and repellent. After I finished, I felt better about myself as a mother, wife, member of my community in general. Mary Aker's clear, honest voice carries the content. Her insightful, creative images pull the characters and the reader to the other side.

The first story, "Medusa Song," is horrifyingly honest. The story is a warning for those women who allow an emotionally absent, philandering husband and subservient, oppressive life to go too far. The protagonist is at risk to become the villain unless she takes control of her life. Her repression and complacency threaten her children in an almost too creepy Susan Smith kind of way. The conclusion is an allegorical baptism by fire. You're left wondering if you should call social services.

Sometimes the world can miss the point in a good intention, as in Jenny the stripper's crusade for animal rights in "Animo, Anima, Animus." Sometimes the good intentions are warped from the beginning, as in cancer stricken Ima, who martyrs herself for the benefit of the travelling show "Bodyworks" in "Pygmalion, (Recast)." The archetypal good girl gets it all wrong and pins all her dreams on the bad boy in "Wild, Wild Horses." The one character who seems to have the best sense of self in the entire collection is the archetypal bad girl in "Evangeline."

WOMEN UP ON BLOCKS is a collection of contradictions and duelling themes. Just like you never know what a woman is really thinking one moment to the next, you never know what these women are up to one story to the next.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


PARLOUS ANGELS identifies the South by painting a portrait of family and class divides. Anger born in Reconstruction comes of age in textile mill row houses and confronts our fathers' university education. The collection of short stories connect across generations and not-so-random encounters to form close ties of class and family. We are the men we are, the mothers we are because of the people who came before. Their integrity, or lack of it, shapes us in their influence and abandonment. Ed Southern's self righteous aren't always so righteous, his privileged aren't always entitled, and he reveals we could learn a thing or three from those we see as derelict. Southern questions what the generation before sacrificed for what the generation after lost to get ahead.
Ed Southern's style is all about rhythm. Tales of high school basketball, back room poker, and punk show mosh pits are as active and rhythmic as the dialogue in his more sentimental, emotional stories.
PARLOUS ANGELS are timeless stories of the Southern Everyman. That's a heavy thing to say, because the Southern Everyman isn't ever easy to define. There is one constant: conflict, the best component of a good story. Ed Southern has it in spades.
How do YOU define the South? How do you think the guy living two miles or twelve hundred miles away describes the South?
Are we better off than our our grandparents? What defines progress?

"Baptists on the Edge" PARLOUS ANGELS Ed Southern

Men can always talk sports, so says my husband. Seems especially true when you're talking about North Carolininian men and basketball. There is a deep, innate love of the sport, crossing class lines and racial bias. It runs from Tobacco Road like a veinous system up the Blue Ridge and flows seaward into the Cape Fear. Tired of your Wake boyfriend? Show up at Cameron in a dark blue and white clown wig. Want to fire up your Wolfpack daddy? Put your son in a Carolina Tshirt. (Won't do that again...) If you want to depict social unrest and Southern tradition and generational dynamics, you couldn't ask for a better metaphor than basketball.

So goes "Baptists on the Edge." More than any other story in PARLOUS ANGELS, Ed Southern illustrates the unspoken integrity that is passed from father to son and how little the canyon-like split between the haves and shoulda haves matters. In a contentious basketball game between the Paw Creek Baptists and Providence Road, ('nuff said in the team names), a father reflects on a rough game from his youth between the privileged Reynolds High School and his own underdog, Mineral Springs, that quickly erupted into a brawl.

As time often dictates between one generation and the next, the son easily pushes back the Paw Creek Baptists and leads Providence Road to win. The father's lower class upbringing gives him a vantage point in his seat high in the bleachers of privileged Providence Road. He realizes the focus with which his son plays, despite the catcalls of the opposing team's pastor and the taunting of the losing team by his fellow upper class parents, is the legacy that matters. His superiority is measured not by the car he drove to the gym or even by the skills with which his son plays basketball. It's the integrity he passed on to his son. And the greater gift is his son also knows it.

What lessons did your father/mother/coach teach you?
What lessons do you think, not hope, you'll leave to those you influence?

To quote my favorite spider, "SALUTATIONS!"

I have an addiction. Stashed like bottles in closets, between sofa cushions, behind diaper stacks. Piled like pills on bedside tables, under the bed, in the car floorboard is bound dope causing me to ignore fighting children, steaming pots of green beans and stop signs at the end of my sidewalk. And you, all of you, who send Barnes and Noble gift cards, boxes of new releases, and grocery bags of cast-offs, you're enablers. The least I can do, especially for those of you whose books I never return, is give something back.

Edmund Burke tells us, "To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting." So here goes, Mr. Burke. Every week or month or so, I'll be rambling on about novels, short stories, the written word in general, anything that delights my literary heart. I hope you enjoy my opinion, but if you don't, please don't tell me. I'm no good with criticism; ask my mother.

My good friend, Kevin Watson, has graciously agreed to let me take a stab at his titles from Press 53. I have to admit I benefit from his judgement. He makes it easy to find great stories. Go to and pick up some books because the only thing better than eating small farm produce is reading small press writers.

Thanks for checking me out! So to speak.