Thursday, October 04, 2007
Former Paradise resident offers short-story collection
By DAN BARNETT
"Paradise Stories" ($15 in paperback from Small Desk Press, www.smalldeskpress.com) by Dustin Heron begins in 1994 with 10-year-old Billy, whose parents, Ant and Stan Wright, live in a trailer in Paradise.
One day their septic system backs up and floods the yard in front of the trailer and Billy is confronted by a giant pile of living, talking excrement that asks Billy if he wants to live forever. Then things really get interesting.
San Francisco-based Small Desk Press publishes talented new writers who push the literary envelope. Heron, who comes from Paradise, has crafted a series of 10 interconnected stories set in Paradise and Chico that takes the reader on a journey into the abject lives of the working poor. The stories are by turns revoltingly funny and sickeningly sad. The reader, like Billy, comes face-to-face with poop in all of its forms from the very first line in the book. Yet rather than fashion a grade-B comedy, Heron has done something quite extraordinary.
Even as this reader at least is reeling from the machine-gun assault of the S-word, Heron transforms the utterly incredible into a gimlet-eyed view of the human condition, and hope in the midst of excrement. Sucker-punched, I couldn't stop reading.
Old Roland Gary (Ant is his niece) is in front of St. Thomas More in Paradise, half drunk, cynical and sarcastic, about to attend his late wife's memorial service. He spies the Gold Nugget Parade on the Skyway. "Floats, designed by children and other half-wits, rumbled down the street affixed to rusty old Fords spewing clouds of black exhaust to a raucous soundtrack of fiddles and beer-addled shouting. Grubby-faced children, smeared from head to toe in cotton candy, tugged on the floral petticoats of their grandmothers for money to buy one of the pieces of low-quality garbage housed under those white tents on the hill. ..." There was "a proliferation of fool's gold ... necklaces and bracelets, figurines — any and everything glittering with the same false promise the whole town had been founded on."
Then Dan, the winner of the Donkey Derby, appeared. The Derby "simulated the founding of Paradise, wherein one lucky group of miners found a 50-pound gold nugget in the river & and lugged it up the hill on the back of a donkey and started the town of Paradise, where the hopeful swarmed, staked their claims, fought and loved and killed and began lives — only to discover that the Feather River contained exactly 50 pounds of gold, and it had already been spent."
There. You have been warned.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.