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By Kyle Minor
Curbside Splendor Publishing
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer
You've got to hand it to an author who uses the first page of his collection to tell you, in boldface, not to skip around. Not just because of the gutsiness, although I admire how he's willing to risk looking like a temperamental artist in order to get his point across, but because it shows that the order of the collection is important to him, which in turn implies that things are connected. Which they indeed are. Praying Drunk is quite the plate-juggling act, and not only does he keep them all up in the air, he even manages to spin one or two plates on his finger.
It's hard to quite know where to set the breaks between stories. Kyle has divided this slim volume into two parts, and he's further broken the parts into a series of cycles. The first features a trilogy of interlocked stories, a series of miniatures about missionary work in Haiti, a Q&A session that confounds and expounds upon the book's major themes, and a beautiful capstone vignette. The second features a story, the stunning and sad and in some places remarkably warm "There Is Nothing But Sadness in Nashville," with several stories nested into it, a second series of vignettes about missionary work abroad, and another Q&A, this one far stranger. The structural parallels grow deeper when you consider Kyle's reuse of characters. I don't want to spoil the reader's fun and give them away. Let's just say that the first story features speculation about the suicide of a character's uncle, and that you hear from that uncle as the collection goes on.
The parallels imply an enormous universe, within a 200 page collection, and a believable universe at that; it seems as though the characters have lives outside of the pieces' confines. They're often brutally sad lives, as "There Is Nothing but Sadness in Nashville" and the staggering experiment "The Truth and All Its Ugly" (which is built around a series of strange and devastating turns, not the least being its shift into sci-fi) imply, but what matters is that we feel them, we feel their causes and their effects and understand them as continuing outside of the stories' confines. The way form and content combine to form a coherent whole is astounding. Praying Drunk's themes of faith and family seem to get the most press, but the way the form informs the themes by suggesting the broader implications of the actions within the stories is really what drives it; furthermore, if you're not a big short story reader, the binding ties might make it feel more like a novel. On top of that, the content - breathing fire in heaven, computerized shells of children - is strange and unsettling and astonishing in the imagination department. I don't know if this will be the best book I review all year, but Kyle Minor's doing some enviable work right now.
Out of 10: 9.7