Thursday, March 17, 2005

ABERDEEN STORIES by Steven C. Stoker (iUniverse)

I remember when I discovered this book. I had been plucking through POD title after POD title, each with writing worst than the last. I remember twisting my neck in circles to try and relieve the tension that comes from reading sentences like this:

"There was no way Bob wasn’t starting over again this time, no matter what."

I was ready to turn and walk out of the (used) book store when the cover (believe it or not) of another POD title caught my attention. It was this:

ABERDEEN STORIES, by Steven C. Stoker (iUniverse)

I stared at the orangey image of a watering device in a grainy field, one like so many that littered the farms from my childhood. I put my coat on, sighed, then picked up the book.

Good move. I read the first few pages of chapter one and the tension flowed from my muscles with every word. Having an apartment full of McInerneys and Easton-Ellises and all the other folks who have written of psychological urban decay, the stores that made up ABERDEEN were a true emollient--succinct stories of simple times in rural America.

There is no novel here--just a large grouping of short vignettes about growing up in a small-town, in more of the form of a memoir. Every line, every paragraph is well-written and lovely, to the point where I reread a few stories two or three times in a row before moving forward.

I hate to make the comparison--for fear of sounding trite--but Stoker could be sort of an upcountry version of David Sedaris, with slightly more poignant writing and a true sense that you would love to sit down and buy the guy a drink (of hot cocoa.)

Here is a taste:

"One job that we were able to do as kids was to pull thistles. It was not a job to be sought out, for it was a torturous endeavor at best. Even with the best of gloves, long-sleeved shirts, heavy denim jeans, and hightopped boots, the tiny spines would find their marks. And they seemed particularly fond of the tender skin of pre-pubescent young farm boys.

There were many things that Dad asked me to do that I enjoyed, but thistle duty was not one of them. Dwight and Mike were no more enthusiastic than I, and we all dawdled as much as possible to avoid the task. Such tactics, however, were fruitless. The thistles did not go away until we made them go away."

Writing this review seems like too weak an exaltation, really. I wish I could say more, do more.

I guess there’s nothing left but to pick it up and read it again.