Moon­light Sketches

The Compass - - TRINITY SOUTH -

For some of us, moon­light sug­gests ro­man­tic mo­ments. Sketches are quickly dashed off draw­ings, bare out­lines of more de­tailed com­po­si­tions. At the book­store when you spot a copy — no, not acopy but a tower of copies — of Ger­ard Collins’Moon­light Sketches[Kil­lick Press] you might reach out drawn by the de­sire to read an an­thol­ogy of short sto­ries about light-hearted ro­mances.

Or not. Who am I to pre­sume what might go through a book-browser’s nog­gin?

How­ever, take a close look at the shad­owy colours of the com­mu­nity sketched on the cover; at the bold, black print of the ti­tle; at the mid­night, pitch-black sickle-edged moon.

Shades of Stephen King? Naw, not in this case. More like shades of Ersk­ine Cald­well.

Bet ol’ Ersk­ine is a nov­el­ist you haven’t thought about since the devil was an oakum picker.

I first read Cald­well’s nov­el­sGod’s Lit­tle Acre­andTobacco Road­when I was an un­sul­lied youth. Af­ter­wards, I im­me­di­ately scoured book­stores and li­braries un­til I ex­hausted the mea­gre — nowhere near the 25 nov­els penned — lo­cal sup­ply of Cald­well yarns.

Cald­well’s sto­ries ex­plore the dark side of the Amer­i­can south, a so­ci­ety partly pop­u­lated by peo­ple driven by raw emo­tions, yet who, de­spite their of­ten­times prim­i­tive be­hav­iour, garner our sym­pa­thy.

That last para­graph make any sense? I’m try­ing to be right lit­er­ary.

Cer­tain of Ger­ard Collins’ sto­ries evoke mem­o­ries of those Cald­well books I en­joyed back when I was prob­a­bly too young to fully ap­pre­ci­ate their con­tent.

For in­stance, Tar-Cat, one of the sev­eral sto­ries fea­tur­ing David Snow and his vi­o­lent cousin Benny. Benny’s bru­tal­ity, his “ease with death and vi­o­lence” is al­most id­io­pathic, per­haps stem­ming from the same mu­tated mores that makes drown­ing cats “a nat­u­ral part of life in Dar­win.”

Be­cause it’s his na­ture, Benny pitches Snow­ball the cat into the tar bucket. De­spite the mis­treat­ment, Snow­ball — kinda like that re­silient Puss in the Doc Wil­liams tune The Cat Came Back — sur­vives and thrives.

There’s a sweet sar­donic touch at the story’s end. One of Snow­ball’s prog­eny is named Benny “out of spite.”

My favourite story is The Dark­ness and Darcy Knight. This one has echoes of not only Cald­well, but also Wil­liam Faulkner and Shirley Jack­son, and even the hin­ter­land hor­ror of the movieDe­liv­er­ance­with­out the du­el­ing ban­joes.

Ide­al­is­tic school teacher Darcy Knight be­lieves he can save Amy Crowley from the life of abuse and poverty she ex­ists in on the out­skirts of Dar­win. Fool­ishly, he ig­nores the “stay away” warn­ings and con­fronts Amy’s fam­ily.

Darcy is like the mock­ing­bird that it’s a sin to kill al­luded to early in the story. Collins has a dandy cou­ple of lines fore­shad­ow­ing — sorta — Darcy’s fate: “ They didn’t have mock­ing­birds in Dar­win, New­found­land. Fur­ther­more, it was only nat­u­ralto shoot some­thing if you hap­pened to have a gun and it made the mor­tal mis­take of fly­ing.” Love those lines. Darcy the mock­ing­bird mis­tak­enly flies into the Crow­leys’ ter­ri­tory.

At some point in the book I re­al­ized there’s a sound track thump­ing away in the back­ground; an eclec­tic mix of Rush and Eninem and Beastie Boys; the Stones and Van Mor­ri­son and Char­lie Pride. And oth­ers.

By weav­ing this mu­sic into his sto­ries Collins re­minds us that we all have sound tracks to our lives.

Mid­way through Run, Mother, Run! I burst out laugh­ing, an ex­plo­sive guf­faw that spewed spit on the pages. The out­burst was trig­gered by a scrap of de­scrip­tion that flashed a vis­ual im­age into my mind like one of those pop-up win­dows you en­counter on the In­ter­net.

Mis­sus in the story is en­raged at her daugh­ter, so en­raged in fact that “ her face sud­denly turned red and her lips clenched tight like a hen’s …”

Be­cause it might of­fend del­i­cate read­ers, I’m not go­ing to say which part of a hen’s anatomy Mis­sus’ face re­sem­bles. I will say the ref­er­ence is to a bod­ily ori­fice com­mon to all fowl, the ex­cre­tory or­gan called the cloaca.

I hadn’t heard that ex­pres­sion in three­parts of a life­time.

On re­flec­tion, I add that in my mem­ory the ex­pres­sion usu­ally ends with a two-word tag. Here’s the tag: “chew­ing frankgum.” Thank you for read­ing.

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