“The town itself is homeless. It lies on the prairie like a drunk on a sidewalk.”
The town is Tuckahoe, a fictional SK community invented by gifted writer Neil McKinnon, and on the strength of these first two sentences, I knew I was going to enjoy his short fiction collection Tuckahoe Slidebottle. McKinnon renders a cast of characters simultaneously outrageous and credible; if Tuckahoe were on a map, readers would be flocking there.
I can’t help thinking that the writer wore a smile while penning most of these twenty stories. First, let’s look at the town itself. Tuckahoe’s a place where “Dried potholes slam your teeth as you drive.” There’s the inevitable coffee row, called “The Jury” (“five or six tobacco chewers and sunflower-seed-spitters who met every day to pass judgement on the private lives of others”). And there are wild characters like one-eyed Old Alex, who took off his black eye patch Saturdays and “used a silver dollar to cover the hole where his left eye was supposed to be,” because he believed in dressing up on Saturday nights.
Reverend Davies is the minister at Tuckahoe’s Singing Evangelist Holy Gospel Church; his young wife Abigail is anything but devout. The teen narrator of “Going Blind in Tuckahoe” says: “When she crossed her legs her skirt hiked up until I could see the tops of her nylons. It got me going so much I couldn’t get up when the service was over.”
Constable Dave is the town’s cop three days a week. “The other days he pumps gas down at Mac’s Garage. The town hasn’t got around to buying him a uniform, so he puts on his gas jockey outfit for both jobs.”
It’s impossible not to adore these characters and envy the author’s talent. McKinnon could publish a book of his similes alone: “Keeping something private was like using your hands to scoop water into a hot radiator,” he writes. One character “spoke slow and deliberate, like someone trying to explain nuclear physics to a group of morons,” and stranger Morton Goldsak “strode onto Main Street, walking boldly in well-shined shoes like a banker on a mission of foreclosure.” The man had “a stook of red hair that stood straight up and waved in the breeze like a nervous campfire.”
Outlandish business schemes are common in Tuckahoe. Goldsak, a down-on-his-luck gambler, arrives to start a newspaper, “The Tuckahoe Wind Breaker.” (Ha!) One local eccentric “invested all his money in a scheme to crossbreed a mink and a kangaroo so as to produce a fur coat with pockets.”
The first four stories are narrated by “Obbie” Robertson, whose AWOL cousin stirs up trouble with other men’s wives. Many of these stories concern love, but romance in Tuckahoe might just involve “[holding] the barbed wire for each other.” Time and again, McKinnon’s characters demonstrate that love is “elegant in dreams but awkward in practice.”
This book’s difficult to put down, easy to recommend. You will laugh out loud.
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