From the Publisher
“The lonely, restless pursuit of a liberating future is a staple of American fiction. Every so often, through clarity of vision, keenness of ear, and sheer elan, a writer shakes it to life again, which is exactly what Tom Piazza has done...This is a terrific debut. More, please.” Peter Franck, The Washington Post Book World
“Tom Piazza plays variations on both the form and the traditional content of the blues...In a few notes he can summon up a character's voice or create a locale: a New Orleans cafe, a New York music company, a Gulf Coast fishing port.” Michael Harris, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“In these stories, Tom Piazza is touching the grain of actual, as opposed to imaginary, human life. He sees both the pain and the humor, the tragic as well as the comic.” James Alan McPherson, Ploughshares
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In ``Burn Me Up,'' the most effective of the 12 achingly moody stories in this virtuoso collection, Memphis city councilman Archie Lucas recalls the spring of 1948, when he felt ``a sense of longing and possibility mixed with a strange directionlessness.'' His ennui is later shattered by the rock-and-roll voice of Billy Sundown on the radio. Raunchy Billy is Archie's former schoolmate, and his Jerry Lee Lewis-style fame and troubles have propelled him into a peripatetic world of backwater lounges. The painful counterpoint of these two lives resounds through this and other pieces that contrast pure-on-the-road blues and frustratingly settled existences. Set in motion by the soul-sapping ``Brownsville,'' in which the narrator sits alone in a steamy New Orleans bar and vows to quit running when he gets to dusty Brownsville, a town he has chosen ``because I've got no reason to go there,'' these stories are sequenced in perfect call-and-response rhythm. Piazza has found the common American experience in the attachment-detachment struggle. Ranging from New York City to coastal Texas to Santa Monica, and crisscrossing through Memphis, he draws into his edgy cosmology characters from disparate segments of our population, what Stanley Crouch in his introduction calls ``so many out-of-tune lives'': the diaspora Jew trapped in the commuter ethos (``A Servant of Culture'') as well as the Tennessee trucker who can't act ``right'' in sedate Ohio society (``Memphis''). If there is a flaw here, it is that women are depicted only as speed bumps that throw men off course. Told in a clear tenor voice, Piazza's first collection is as wonderfully dislocating as an all-night drive. Piazza is a recipient of a 1995-96 James Michener Award. (Feb.)
These 12 stories, some of which have appeared in Story or American Short Fiction, provide readers with a glimpse of a cross section of contemporary Americans looking for meaning in their troubled lives. The stories share travel as a common motif with each character searching outside her- or himself for happiness. We are taken into the abject life of an entertainer named Billy Sundown and witness his unusual effect on the life of a former classmate; a Gulf Coast fisherman having an affair with a college instructor safeguards his home and family against a threatening hurricane; a businessman unknowingly carries a loaded gun into his girlfriend's home for Thanksgiving; and a pair of Jewish tourists in Memphis stumble into a shop with Nazi memorabilia. The author's terse style paints a revealing picture of our perplexed culture. Piazza's first book revives the essence of the short story and allows readers, unlike the characters, to "sit still and look inside yourself." Recommended for all collections.-David A. Beron, Westbrook Coll. Lib., Portland, Me.