Fiction

Mistakes, I Made a Few

On the relationship between a work and its title, short-story writer and essayist Charles D’Ambrosio has written, “Entitling a poem or story or essay is harder than naming a child. The privilege of place is almost like a law of primogeniture, with the title inheriting the entire work, and along with that legacy comes the burden, the implied promise, of carrying the weight of the piece to the end.” If the title of Mike Spry’s first short-story collection, Distillery Songs, makes a promise, it’s the promise to give a rich and varied ode to the kind of stories that emerge from nights (and, in this collection, lifetimes) spent drinking.

Distillery Songs
Mike Spry

Insomniac Press
$19.95
paper
155pp
9781554830220

A night spent drinking is a fragile thing. A congenial gathering of friends is only ever one drink, one ill-perceived comment, one altercation away from becoming morose or even destructive. Spry’s collection, and its preoccupation with excessive drinking and the damage it causes, also balances the funny and the sad. Most of the stories are depraved and depressing, with a cast of characters who aren’t just getting drunk – they’re pickled, distilled – transformed into aggravated versions of themselves. But the collection is also imaginative, ridiculous, and funny: sometimes it’s the entire premise of the story (Jesus is reincarnated at a Neil Young concert and hitchhikes to Thunder Bay), and sometimes it’s a line (“Plus He’s the Lord Almighty, right, who tells the Lord they’re not gonna help him kill a Spaniard dishwasher at three in the mornin’ high on gas up the Bay?”)

The stories are tight, economical, and each sentence has been nursed and carefully crafted. Spry has an ear for slang and tone; whether it’s a demented orderly or a young woman at rehab, he gets it right. His writing lets the reader get close to the characters – you may even find yourself hoping everything works out for the guy who explains, “Okay, there’s a goddamn dead hooker named Crystal or Shelley or Raven or something duct taped to my couch and it’s one twenty-four in the afternoon and my notoriously punctual parents will be here for dinner at five-thirty … ” Spry keeps his title’s promise, and delivers ten snappy venerations for the sordid side of life. mRb

Vanessa Bonneau reads a lot of kids’ books.

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