Poor People: OUT OF THE WOODS (Chris Offutt) & EVA’S MAN (Gayl Jones)

The books are peopled with Kimelman’s “losers,” those people at the bottom rung of the economic ladder, those people on the fringes, the ones with the strong moral and social codes that have nothing to do with sitcoms and reality TV. They’re doing the hard living poor people do, but they’re not whiny about it like a rich guy who wants a bigger yacht. They’ve got their heads down, they’re backs up, and they’re muddling through the best they can.

That’s about where the similarities end. Out of the Woods is a collection of short stories featuring full of characters from Kentucky, trying to escape Kentucky, or trying to get back to Kentucky — or at least what it represents in their heads. “Melungeons” is a masterpiece, @steveweddle’s right about that, and “High Water Everywhere” really struck a chord with me, though I’m not sure I can explain how or why. Something about the way the two characters compliment each other; whether you run or you stay, it’s hard to avoid the trap, the grass is greener, that sort of thing. If you’ve ever found yourself out of place, wondering if you should or can go home again, there’s a story in there for you.

Eva’s Man is a whole other set of running, a whole other kind of poor, but written in a similar gritty voice that lets you hear the characters. Eva uses the word “fuck” a lot more, though. Eva’s one of those unreliable narrators who makes you start to feel as crazy as she is if you read too many pages at a time. She slips from present to past with increasingly fewer indicators until she’s addressing men she’s killed, men she’s met, men she’s married, and her cell mate in alternating breaths. Her mother’s early advice that once she opens her legs, she’ll never get ’em closed runs through her and the book like a warning and a challenge. The men don’t seem terribly fleshed out, but as we’re getting the story from Eva’s perspective, this wasn’t as troublesome to me as the fact that the ever-looming predatory nature of most of “her men” hasn’t changed much in the ghetto if my students are any indication. I can’t say it’s a feel-good read and to me it wasn’t as masterful as Offut’s, but it’s an interesting read.

Makes you want to listen to the blues.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/22195426 w=400&h=225]

Joel DaSilva “Let’s Not Fight” Performed Live at the Bamboo Room, April 7, 2011 from Keary Cunningham on Vimeo.