Sunday, May 24, 2015

Review: "Sweet Nothing" by Richard Lange

A short story collection like Richard’s Lange’s Sweet Nothing is something to celebrate and cherish. It is a rich collection of small tragedies among smaller people, given the breadth and importance of a Shakespeare play. You get the feeling reading them that Lange not only enjoyed writing them, but also puts a piece of himself in each one. It is not a collection that is haphazardly thrown together with stories acting as nothing but filler. This book is, and should be, a major event to excited about. Lange himself is a writer I have been curious about for some time, drawing praise from some pretty trusted sources, and this collection is a great introduction to his world, which blurs the line between success and failure, which seems to be the only option for some of the poor souls that inhabit this version of Los Angles. The first few writers that came to mind when I was reading these wonderful stories were people like Craig Davidson and to a lesser extent Joe R. Lansdale (who both offer praise on the hardcover edition), but who I really thought of when I was reading was Thom Jones and his two legendary collections, The Pugilist at Rest and Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine. Lange shares Jones’ sympathy for losers, injecting an insight and humor into their (sometimes deserved) bad luck, adding an eloquent poetry to lives that have seemingly become meaningless, to no one more than the person whose life it is. With the exception of one story, a redundant post-apocalyptic tale of two loners, which offers nothing fresh, all the stories here are fantastic, and I will discuss a few that really stood out, as I do with all short story reviews. The first story here, “Must Come Down”, is one of the weirder tales here, telling the story of a reformed drunk whose life has finally come together with a steady job and a loving wife, being tested by his wife’s father, who works in the illegal diamond industry. It offers a great contrast of scenes, from the bucolic setting of a dinner at home tinged with tension, to the propulsive threat of violence when the father must seek out a customer who late on payments. “Baby Killer” about a middle-aged nurse who witnesses the murder of a child by a gangbanger, is one the saddest stories in this collection, showing how little this proud woman has left in her life, and her quest to make things right, which ends in an unexpectedly heartbreaking way, the title story is similar as well, about a man who has lost his family to drug addiction forming a relationship with a woman whose daughter is in coma. Others like “The 100-1 Club” about a first date at a horse track, “Gather Darkness” about the fragility of a man’s life after a drunken affair and the last story “To Ashes” about a father-son mission to rescue relative crossing the border, offer keen examinations into the hearts of the wounded. I can’t say enough good things about this collection and Lange as a chronicler of failure-dom. He know that life is more than a series of success and defeats, but how you deal with them, and what you take from them at the end of the day, and after reading this, I hope you do too.

Rating: 5/5

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