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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Stories So Dark You Need Night Vision Goggles to Read Them!

By Rob Pierce

216 pages

(All Due Respect Books; August 30, 2016)

EBook sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC


"Thanksgiving 1963" is probably one of the best short stories I have ever read. 

Set at a family party in Dallas six days before Thanksgiving and one day before JFK was murdered, it is a tale of drunkenness, family discord, misplaced Texas pride and shrewd commercial opportunity.

The narrator and his brother-in-law, Billy, despise their other kin and use whisky to insulate themselves against them. They are prepared for a week of debauchery leading up to the great Turkey Day chow down. In the midst of the party, they plan to line up along the parade route and watch the president drive by.

Then word filters out that Kennedy has been shot. First he is rushed to a local hospital. Then the coroner is called in. The narrator and his family return home and redouble their drinking.

Early in the story it becomes clear that Billy is secretly glad the president has been killed -- after all, it leaves a Texan in charge of the country.

The narrator is certainly no liberal (for one thing, he owns four gun shops), but he clearly considers himself an American first and a Texan second. He and his wife consider the assassination repellent and despicable:

"What kind of man," she says on hearing the news, "Would shoot the president?"

An early verbal dust-up between the two men sets the tone for the eventual confrontation:

"The best part of today," I said and took a drink, "was the hangover."

"Well," Billy raised his glass, "you can have a new one tomorrow. And at least Kennedy's dead."

"You shouldn't say that," I said.

"No one in this room but you and me," Billy grinned. "I wouldn't say it on the news if that's what you mean."

I knew Billy liked LBJ, but . . . I just shook my head. "He's the President," I said.

The family dynamics in the story, though disturbing, ring as true as anything in literature. The narrator and his brother-in-law Billy get plastered soon after Billy and his wife Kaye arrive and stay that way through the Thanksgiving meal. All the rest of the men get drunk, too, eager to take advantage of the cases of Jack Daniels that Billy has brought along.

If I had a dollar for every Wallace family party I have attended that shook out the way this one does, I would be one wealthy son-of-a-bitch. Nothing like a house full of drunks working out long-standing grudges to make for a merry and often bloody celebration.

The denouement of the story involves a Thanksgiving Day football game between the Aggies of Texas A&M and the University of Texas Longhorns. 

As the narrator drunkenly observes, "Maybe that's it. . .Lose your President and play a game. Don't seem right."

The incoherent whisky-soaked crowd of men gather around the narrator's television to cheer for A&M, occasionally breaking into chants of "LBJ, LBJ!"

In Pierce's skillful hands, the intercutting between the tightly contested game, the assassination and the growing enmity between the narrator and his brother-in-law, Billy, is artfully interwoven to end in an unredeemable act of violence over Thanksgiving dinner. It is clear that nothing in this family will ever be the same again.

I have to be honest: I am a long-time fan of short stories because I am simply too lazy to dive deeply into one novel after another. I need the short breaks anthologies afford.

Having said that, however, I still think some miniaturized tales are worth perusing at length because the mood is so skillfully conjured or the language so brilliantly rendered. "Thanksgiving 1963" is definitely among them.

The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet is worth buying for "Thanksgiving 1963," alone, but the book contains much more. 

Between its pages are more than 20 other tales that are equally excellent, including "Broken Window," a short yarn about a burglar who runs into the business end of a collegiate baseball bat; "Mud People," a Lovecraftian story of transformation and death, and "The Real Thing," a perfect example of how the things Pierce loves will kill him yet.

Pierce, who wrote the Thanksgiving story for Pulp Modern, an online mag, is probably best known for his novel Uncle Dust, his editorship of Swill Magazine and his work as an editorial consultant for All Due Respect Books.

Author Rob Pierce (No -- despite the subject's appearance, he isn't a deranged wombat!) 
This is Pierce at his twisted best in a fine collection of yarns so dark you need night vision goggles to read them: their subjects are bizarre crimes, nightmarish revenges, barren and solitary lifestyles and romantic liaisons that are anything but.

Any reader looking to sample Pierce's wares before plunging on Uncle Dust or his novella, "Vern in the Heat" should consider taking The Things I Love for a test spin.

Whether you like to mull over short fiction at a leisurely pace or glom it down in hasty chunks while lying in bed or commuting, this book is perfect. I couldn't recommend it more.

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