by Clay Reynolds
Sandhill County is the imagined place that informs most of Reynolds’s fiction from the early novels The Vigil and Agatite through Franklin’s Crossing, Monuments, and Threading the Needle. It is also the setting for these nine stories, which Reynolds sees as reflective fragments, “the kind one notices when driving through North Central Texas—old buildings and houses, each concealing a story.”
Wondering about such structures, “about the people behind the windows and doors, what their stories truly are,” Reynolds observes, “sometimes a sensation that wouldn’t cause so much as a ripple in the city may well roll like a tidal wave in a small town.”
It is the pulse of such sensations, drumming throughout these stories, that makes the whole and illuminates Reynolds’ native ground, the place he finds more evocative, the Texas he returns to again and again.
“Clay Reynolds’s stories are earthy, frank, sometimes disturbingly ironic, but his characters are always real, compelling, and unpredictable.”
Reynolds, a university of Texas at Dallas professor, novelist and book critic, spins nine winning yarns about small town people trapped in mean circumstances in, mostly, the Lone Star State. “Mexico” follows a character named Curly as he goes catting with his good old boys at a sad little Mexican border outpost, only to discover that his hometown isn’t much different, spiritually, from the shanties, barrooms and whorehouses south of the border. In “Bush League,” a jilted single mother meets an ex-boyfriend, now a sports agent; she wants revenge for their “dirty, tacky little affair,” and he wants to sign her baseball-prodigy son. Connie, the miserable college professor of “Nickelby,” is a “lonely, antique woman living in a lonely, antique house” in rural Texas, who begins to feel kinship with her neighbor’s abused dog. “The Baptism” features a solitary hardware store owner in the dust bowl of Agatite, Tex., who learns there are only two things certain in his world: death and Wal-Mart. Reynolds shines penetrating light on small lives.