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Book Review

‘You Only Get Letters From Jail’ is a painful pleasure


BookCourtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Fay Jones

Tin House Books

Pub Date: 7/16/13


CNA - Stop HIV Iowa (Dec)

288 pp.

In this new collection of short stories by Jodi Angel, each is headed up by a rough-necked, hapless teenaged narrator, from harsh backgrounds of poor, underclass, dysfunctional families, compromised by drugs or drinking.

In her opening story, “A Good Deuce,” 17-year old Roy’s mom dies from a drug overdose. His dad is missing, and his grandma merely hands him an Army brochure before taking off with his little sister. He describes how his sister found their mother dead and how they’d come across her in a drug-induced state so many times before that there was “no sense of emergency or fear.” He pried the pill bottle from his mother’s hand and headed out to a bar.

In “Game-Bred,” the narrator’s father would match him up against the babysitter’s pit bull and place bets on the outcome. Older now, and a gambler himself, Nolan attempt to use a kitchen knife on an ATM in the hopes of securing cash to pay debt he owes after losing a bet.

“Field Dressing” tells the story of Robbie, who was taken in by his uncle after his mother drank herself to death with Listerine. His uncle one day accidentally blows his head own off while deer hunting. “I thought maybe it was me, some dark cloud of dying that was hanging over my head,” Robbie reflects.

Angel’s details and descriptions heighten the tension and sense of confinement of these boys’ horrible situations. She’s able to give the characters a convincing, well-rendered voice despite having grown up in an all-girl family. Their situations are grim, depressing and hopeless — yet the stories of them are intense, insightful and a pleasure to read. CV

Fay Jones was born with a love of literature, which was finely shored up throughout her early years by her parents and a beloved children’s librarian who wore the thickest glasses ever manufactured.

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