The Name of the Nearest River : Stories by Alex Taylor

Reading rural noir books is a guilty pleasure.  I finish one, swear that I will never readname of the nearest river any more in this genre, and then there’s another author in the woodwork that grabs my attention.  Such is the case for Kentucky writer Alex Taylor and this collection of short stories.

Taylor’s literary world is a grim one, made up of hard weather and harder living.  His characters run the gamut from sinister to comic.  Most of these stories take place in an undetermined time, although one (“A Courier Among Green Trees”) is obviously historical.

In the title story, two friends look for the drowned body of a disliked man so they can heap more abuse on it.  In “Things Both Right and Needed”, a young man ponders revenge while in a field looking for coyotes to kill.  The daughter and father in “Winter in the Blood” are destined a bigger misfortune after discovering three of their cows shot dead.  And in “Equator Joe’s Famous Nuclear Meltdown Chili”, a ragtag family drives a drive in theater owner to distraction when their chili concoction wins over the attendees of his business.

These are just a few of the bunch, and they’re all worth reading.  Taylor writes a highly descriptive prose style so it’s easy to imagine the temperature extremes, the hilly terrain, the hardscrabble folk who people his stories.  Some passages are worth slowing down when reading because the writing is that good.

I haven’t read the author’s most recent novel The Marble Orchard, but I think this collection has sold me on it.

(William Hicks, Information Services)