Benjamin Alire Saenz is a Great American Short Story Writer.

Posted on July 17, 2013
Filed Under Book Review, Strong Recommendation | Comments Off on Benjamin Alire Saenz is a Great American Short Story Writer.

Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club is an excellent book.  I’m not the first to notice this.  It won the Lambda Award last month and before that, Benjamin Alire Saenz’s collection of short stories won the coveted Faukner Award.  While my review of this book is relatively tardy, it should not denote any diminished enthusiasm for it.  In fact, I believe this collection of short stories proves Mr. Saenz to be a great American short story writer–on par with O. Henry, F. Scott Fitzgerald and, in particular, Ernest Hemingway who he is clearly influenced by.  But Mr. Saenz has a literary style that is all his own.  He breaks that tired old rule and “tells” more than he “shows”.  His telling is super-minimal, lyrical.  It would read like poetry if it weren’t so natural and sometimes even funny, for Mr. Saenz–like all great American short story writers–is the master of the punchline.  Perhaps more than anything, though, what distinguishes these stories is the quality of the characterization.  In just a few words of description and some pitch-perfect dialogue Mr. Saenz evokes individuals who are both recognizable and one of a kind–irreplaceable.  If the characters in this collection of seven stories have one thing in common–aside from their association with a bar that is both real and conceptual–it is perhaps a sense of doom: a smoky melancholia that permeates these pages.

I am always reluctant to pick favorites in short story collections.  These stories in particular need to be read in order.  There is a progression to the arrangement of them.  And the last story is the perfect ending.  That said, I must say I have a personal fondness for “The Rule Maker”.  It is the story of a single father who reluctantly saves his son’s life.  The father is a drug dealer and he is also physically abusive.  Here Mr. Saenz’s prose is heartfelt, minimal:

After a week there wasn’t much of a sign of my father’s fist on my jaw or my lip.  I would not wear the scar of that afternoon on my face.  That’s not where I would keep it.

I strongly recommend this book.

Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club is published by Cinco Puntos Press.

UPDATE 1/27/14:  Today it was announced Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club won the the Stonewall Book Award for fiction.

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