Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"The Emerson, 1950" by Scott Phillips

From: Murdaland,Issue 2.

Some might find life in small-town Kansas in 1950 dull,but not the narrator of this story. He's a newspaper photographer on the local crime beat, so it's his job to run around town taking pictures of killers and their victims.

He enjoys that job a lot more than his unofficial one: helping out his great aunt Ivy and her husband Pell. When Ivy has to leave town for a funeral, the job of taking care of the elderly, cranky, alchoholic Pell falls to him. And speaking of falls, that's about the first thing Pell does when he's on his own, landing him in the local Veteran's hospital.

Once the nurses get tired of Pell and give him the boot, and Ivy gets home, reuniting the happy family, Ivy discovers that her candlesticks - jealously guarded, and the only thing she owns of any value - have disappeared. At the top of her shrill voice she lets her great nephew and the rest of the block know that she think's it's those rotten neighbors of hers that took it. And things go downhill from there.

It's tough to explain the appeal of this fine story. Like much of Phillips' work, especially his first novel The Ice Harvest, the plot just seems to amble along from scene to scene, not building up much momentum, but by the end you can't stop reading. The Kansas town and its inhabitants are sketched in quickly but vividly, and each vignette has enough packed into it for its own story.

The narrator, like the narrator of Phillips' earlier story "Sockdolager", seems like a nice guy, and has some wit and keen senses of humor and irony, but in some ways he's scarier than the noirest villain. Because when it gets right down to it, he doesn't care what happens.

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