Stories From The Other Side of the Tracks

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Popular fiction has offered a dearth of work ensconced within the monied class. Fiction has been plagued with inequality toward authors wanting to share stories born of the working poor.  Opportunity has opened the door. The authors featured in this edition of Bookisshh show you how working class others juggle with life, how they trip, stumble and in their greatest hunger live well and on their own terms.  

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“The Flood Girls” by Richard Fifield 

Small town Montana. A trailer park in Quinn, population 956.  Rachel Flood returns home with baggage and not the kind that refers to suitcases.  “The Flood Girls” dually names the Flood family females and the town’s women softball team owned and operated by Laverna Flood also Rachel’s estranged mom.

Fifield draws colorful characters and is artful at crafting quirky relationships between them.  Fifield populates Quinn with these citizens and builds an odd-knocky sort of Mayberry or a really Wild Wild West.  Some of the standouts include: Rachel, AA graduate who’s making amends for destroying the lives of most of the townsfolk,  Jake who’s working his way out of the closet and designs fantastic creations for Quinn residents to feast their eyes upon; Laverna,who stepped off the screen of Pulp Fiction and into her bar, the Dirty Shame where she survives bullet fire, double arm casts and runs pretty much the team and the town of Quinn; and there are others, lots of others, who a reader might never believe could facilitate healing, supportiveness, growth and recovery.

The angle to this story is refreshing as it’s not another endorsement of the monied class thriving in their monied ways.  Readers get to witness hard working Americans who get their hands dirty.  Readers go inside their trailers and taverns as well as attend their parades and Volunteer Fireman’s Balls.  There is a lifestyle and a dignity to living in Quinn Montana ( one of the largest and least populated states).  The dignity lies in living, making mistakes and living on.

“The Flood Girls” employs a series of women’s softball games which serve as are a unifying force for the town giving members a reason to come together and stake a place on the map.  Further, the names of the opposing teams are hysterical!  For instance, “The New Poland At-Home Sales” is actually a name of a team and in tongue and cheek fashion, Fifield demonstrates how art can imitate life, tragedy, comedy and all by way of a team name.

At the core of this novel is a very personal retranslation of life experiences belonging to Fifield who has endured a hard journey en route to becoming the clever and emotional author he is.  He holds up a lens that images an alternative lifestyle and finds the charm, challenge, rhythm and integrity which lives therein.  I am better for reading him.

Life isn’t about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.

-George Bernard Shaw

“Kitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal imgres-2.jpg

I give it up to the an author who uses “rigmarole” in a coarse blue collar context and  the use of “rigmarole” reveals the true grace in the moment…  J. Ryan Stradal  structures his novel by integrating beautiful language with a revolving door cast of  scrappy, interconnected characters in “Kitchens of the Great Midwest.” 

The story centers around quirky, talented, emerging chef, Eva Thorwald and a host of people who intersect her life as she journeys toward her unique take on restaurants, the Pop-Up Dinner Club.  With each character comes a recipe grounded in tradition, location and life circumstance.  We see how recipes unfold and compete for our palates, ribbons and places on menus in restaurants most Americans can’t afford to dine in.

Stradal brings to life the purity and grace found in the kitchens of working and unemployed Americans and evolves their food into meaningful fare representing stories of loss and broken families.  Food is a metaphor for story and Eva’s story allows the metaphor to emerge.

Keeping track of the characters whose appearance is powerful yet brief becomes the reader’s challenge.  Nonetheless, I was happy at their return and saddened by their departure.  While not a romanticist, Stradal narrates from the heart and delivers the soul on a chipped, porcelain platter.

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