Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Doghouse Roses: Stories by Steve Earle (4.5/5)

The back says: Earle’s stories reflect the many facets of the man and the hard-fought struggles, the defeats, and the eventual triumphs he has experienced during a career spanning three decades. In the title story he offers us a gut-wrenchingly honest portrait of a nearly famous singer whose life and soul have been all but devoured by drugs. “Billy the Kid” is a fable about everything that will never happen in Nashville, and “Wheeler County” tells a romantic, sweet-tempered tale about a hitchhiker stranded for years in a small Texas town. A story about the husband of a murder victim witnessing an execution addresses a subject Earl has passionately taken on as a social activist, and a cycle of stories features “the American,” a shady international wanderer, Vietnam vet, and sometime drug smuggler – a character who can be seen as Earle’s alter ego, the person he might have become if he had been drafted.

I say: I fell in love with Earle’s prose last year when I read his debut novel I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, and it’s a shame that it’s taken me this long to read his collection of short stories. As with most short story collections, I find it hard to write a thorough review because some of them I love and others I don’t. With this collection Earle makes it even more difficult because of his ability to write so convincingly in so many different voices.

His talent is immense (and I really should start listening to his music).

What I really love about Earle’s prose is its mixture between the way music gently finds its way into your heart and the way poetry softly breaks it. He is a songwriter so obviously knows how to turn a phrase or two, but prose is something different. Some of these stories are about the “hard men” in, of and by America, but they all have a certain warmth to them that Earle sort of sneaks in there.

Well, maybe not the man in The Witness.

I got drawn into all of these different worlds and latched on to the characters with a concoction of dread, compassion, hilarity and sheer astonishment. The way their tales were weaved sent chills down my spine and I wonder at Earle’s imagination. Some of these stories were beyond magic and above perfection.

I wouldn’t mind living inside of his head for a day or two.

I would have given this the full 5/5 if it weren’t for a couple of stories that I didn’t think were as great as the others, but as far as a collection goes this is nearly flawlessness.

Favourite stories: Jaguar Dance, Taneytown, The Internationale, The Red Suitcase, A Eulogy of Sorts, The Reunion, and The Witness.

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