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Townies: And Other Stories of Southern Mischief


Townies: And Other Stories of Southern Mischief

If you are unfamiliar with Eryk Pruitt’s novels, this collection of his short fiction will provide you with an excellent introduction to the heart of his exquisite southern darkness (the “Mischief” of the subtitle is an understatement, to say the least). If, however, your familiarity with such works as HASHTAG and WHAT WE RECKON has led you to this book, you will find your choice more than rewarded.

TOWNIES is comprised of 20 stories, ranging in length from a few pages to 50 or more. Seven of these, including the title story, are being published for the first time. The 13 that have seen the prior light of day have been culled from wildly and wonderfully eclectic sources, from e-book anthologies to crime fiction websites. The collection itself is divided into two parts: “Lufkin,” a town in east Texas, and “Lake Castor,” which is in North Carolina. Both locations figure prominently in Pruitt’s novels, and occasionally characters from his books wander into and out of these tales as well.

"Pruitt combines the characters you would find populating the works of Tom Franklin and Cormac McCarthy with the situations and sensibilities of a rural Charles Bukowski."

As for the stories themselves, you will find some better than others --- and opinions will differ from reader to reader --- but each has something to recommend it and keep you reading. A few will make you laugh in spots (“Miscellany,” on reflection, is ostensibly about a gas station robbery that turns on a punch line), but most will make you cringe, such as “Houston,” about a drug deal gone wrong, or “Townies,” in which the ambitious manager of a fading roadhouse stumbles into the middle of a crossfire between the owner, employees, local law enforcement and an unsolved murder.

While the primary focus of TOWNIES is on rural or small town happenings, Pruitt does not limit himself to those settings. One of my favorites in the collection is “The Joe Flacco Defense,” which begins in the immediate aftermath of a murder and spins off into the world of suburban fantasy football. Such is Pruitt’s talent that within a few pages, he can deliver a tacit literary nod to the classic EC crime comics and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. A nod is also given to (historic) current events in “November,” which takes place in the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and notes the changes in a small town that have occurred as a result, while asking and answering a poignant question near its conclusion.

If I had to pick a favorite of my own, I would give that distinction to “Blood Holler (A Trilogy).” It is one of the longer stories here, but slices deep and long across human nature, bringing into play elements of greed, anger, revenge and some other emotions when one of the richest men in a small town is murdered for reasons that are both obvious and not entirely clear until the very end of the tale.

Pruitt combines the characters you would find populating the works of Tom Franklin and Cormac McCarthy with the situations and sensibilities of a rural Charles Bukowski. Happy endings to these stories are few and far between. More often than not, Pruitt leaves his characters hanging on the precipice of their poor choices, whether recent or remote. Good is often nonexistent, and evil frequently goes unpunished. Pragmatism rules the day. Another way of putting it is to say that the stories you find in TOWNIES are as real as they can get.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 19, 2018

Townies: And Other Stories of Southern Mischief
by Eryk Pruitt