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Oh Don't You Cry For Me
Philip Shirley

Out the side window the sunset formed long red streaks above the flat Mississippi Delta horizon. She could not ignore its beauty, preacher or not. Her daddy had made sure of that before he died. Every Sunday after church, during the Harvest season, he’d take her driving down the parched dirt roads between the cotton fields he called God’s back 40. The radio of some Memphis station would be turned down low as background while her daddy pointed out the fields he worked."

Reviewed by Melissa Lee-Houghton

There are many short stories we cannot describe in a few sentences. This is not the case with Shirley’s work. His plan is clear and set; stories are ultimately accessible and readable and each story can be recalled easily; e.g. "..Woman walks into a bar, woman acts out meticulously planned vengeance for her daughter." Sometimes, it almost feels a bit American T.V drama, and in fact I believe these stories would make fascinating television. 

The first story, Charisma, sees a young woman of the same name swindle a preacher out of money only to find she’s being swindled by her lover instead. The characters in this book are not trying hard to win us over; and often show no empathy within the contexts of their situations. Jack and CJ’s feud in Turkey Hunt relieves itself by means of stalemate, not the avalanche of dramatic disaster the reader might expect. 

This apathy soaks through each page, through each "role." Longer shorts like The Story of William B. Greene and The Trust Jesus Society give a little more of the character’s emotions and psychologies; Shirley is a master of the design of fictional character. Duane in To Be Loved in Skyline is slightly comedic and as a supporting character does hold the reader’s interest. I often felt, however, that the characters and the prose were somewhat lacking in splinters and imperfections. Shirley is craftsman, a perfectionist, whose stories are shaped and tended with as much precision as a glassblower.

After finishing the book I found I was ambivalent; equally impressed and numbed by the effect of over-emphasizing fictional detail (therefore making it far more unreal), and making the story’s characters wear stilts. I think my main issue with this book is that I wasn’t convinced in the way that literary prose should convince; however, I think that American readers will grasp the stories in a more familiar way than I have. I would be very interested to see the stories adapted to stage or screen.

Watch the author read one of the stories from this collection on YouTube

Melissa Lee-Houghton writes poetry, short stories and reviews and is author of Patterns of Mourning, upcoming from Chipmunka Publishing and currently available to download.

Melissa's other Short Reviews: Jason Brown "Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work"

Delmore Schwartz "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities"   

David Gaffney "Aromabingo"

Elizabeth Baines "Balancing on the Edge of the World"

PublisherJefferson Press

Publication Date: April 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Born in Alabama, now living in Mississippi, Philip Shirley's  territorial literary roots and style illustrate a deep, personal passion for the South. He is a public speaker, CEO of an ad agency, and is currently working on a novel. Previous publications include Four Odd and Endings, both early volumes of poetry

Read an interview with Philip Shirley

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Richard Ford, Aadie Smith (eds) "The New Granta Book of the American Short Story"

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