A lot of us have given up on the short story, and we gave up well before we even bothered to try. If your experience was like mine, short stories were a thing of high school and college curriculum: 10-30 tidy pages that dealt out enough theme, setting, and voice to warrant several paragraphs, sometimes pages, of student analysis. But even the most dedicated reader can mature into a novel-only creature, despite our huge appetite for short-form creative work on the Internet.
Of course, it’s too bad, that’s where I’m going with this. Some authors – Philip K. Dick, Alice Munro, Raymond Carver – seem to have found their rhythm in short fiction in ways they rarely did with novels. Kyle Minor might be one of these writers. We won’t know until he writes a novel. But for the time being, Praying Drunk is one of the most provocative and poetic books I’ve read, period. At the outset, Minor asks us to read the stories in sequence, and I was reminded of concept albums like Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, which had similar themes of faith gone sour and loved ones slipping away. In truth, there may only be one or two stories in Praying Drunk, told over and over from different points in time, perspective, and prose style. Imagine A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius written with ten more years of maturity and hard-won wisdom, edited down to the starkest narrative essentials. But it’s it’s own beast. It works, it’s brilliant. I heartily, heartily recommend it.