Books & Essays
The Southern Cross
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2009
The sixteen short stories featured in Skip Horack?s prize-winning debut collection paint a richly textured vision of the American South. Set in the Gulf Coast over the course of a year torn halfway by the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, these stories, filled with humor, restraint, and verve, follow the lives of an assembly of unforgettable characters. An exonerated ex-con who may not be entirely innocent, a rabbit farmer in mourning, and an earnest young mariner trying to start a new life with his wife?all are characters that populate the spirited cities and drowsy parishes in Horack?s marvelous portrait of the South. "A knockout winner" for guest judge Antonya Nelson, The Southern Cross marks the arrival of a standout new voice.
Book Review #1:
This collection vividly depicts life on the pre- and post-Katrina Gulf Coast. In ?The Journeyman,? Clayton, reluctantly preparing to head out for a three-month stint of work in South America, meets a young girl, Kenyatta, who warns him that God and Jesus are going to punish the people of New Orleans and destroy the city. Amused by her earnest warning, Clayton chuckles and thanks her for the heads up. In ?The Redfish,? Luther, recently released from prison after a wrongful murder conviction (he has committed murder, just not the one he was convicted of), gets tangled up with a no-good woman and ends up bound and gagged with his now-ex-girlfriend?s mother in her trailer as Katrina approaches. In ?Junebelle,? June, a reclusive widow unhappily stuck in a Baton Rouge retirement home after her well-meaning daughter installed her there, avoids interaction with the other residents and spends much time in fond remembrances. Throughout, water is a force, at times standing in for death, at others for peace and beauty. Horack takes in a wide swath of varied characters and finds the common humanity in their struggles. Publishers Weekly
Book Review #2:
Geography and chronology link the stories in Horack's debut, set along the Gulf Coast in the year of Hurricane Katrina. Winner of the 2008 Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize for fiction, this collection recalls the hard-boiled Southern sensibility of Larry Brown, though the author has yet to equal Brown's command of tone and depth of character. Stories vary in length-some vignettes are as short as a page and a half-and in quality, from engagingly subtle to ponderous. Among the heaviest-handed is "The Journeyman," whose portents telegraph their punches. After a little girl in her Sunday church dress discovers a serpent under a man's porch, she warns, "God and Jesus are up to something . . . Reverend Gary says they gonna punish this city soon enough." Prophesized in the "Spring" section (the collection is organized by season), the punishment arrives by the end of "Summer." "The Redfish," perhaps the best piece, evokes Katrina and its aftermath in a parable of innocence, guilt and redemption. In other tales, protagonists deal with moral ambiguities. "The High Place I Go" depicts a nurse, convinced that her husband is cheating on her and that the end of their marriage is imminent, who becomes involved with one of her patients. A commercial fisherman finds romantic comfort with the young Mexican woman who does his cleaning, whom others suspect of being a prostitute, in "Burke's Maria." Even before the hurricane, many of these characters lead hard lives, though not all of them are hard people. The closest they come to philosophy is, "ain't it funny where life takes us?"Somewhat marred by stock Southern regionalism, though the best stories rise above cliche. Kirkus Reviews