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Breaking it Down

Rusty Barnes

"We were pimpled and jangly with caffine and desperately in love with Tory, who was in pursuit of eggs and tampons and puppy chow, not the admiration of future busboys and middle-managers and computer technicians. I would have been her terrier, yapping at her heel for weeks on end for a biscuit opportunity, I would have been her dog, with apologies to Iggy, and I had a plan."

Reviewed by Tania Hershman

It is totally impossible when talking about Rusty Barnes' stunning collection of short short stories to avoid some kind of “small is beautiful” or “great things come in small packages” cliché. Because with Breaking it Down, not only are the stories very short, but the actual book is vertically-challenged, reaching only half the height of a standard paperback. 

However, there is nothing whatsoever lacking in this collection of 18 stories, the longest of which is just over seven small pages. The title, which, unusually, is not also the title of one of the stories, tells all: there is nothing spare here, no extraneous and irrelevant description, nothing to “pad” the story. In a short story - as opposed to a novel - every word counts, and this is even more true of flash fiction, the term that refers to stories under 1000 words. There is no room here for anything which doesn't have direct bearing on the story, and this is where Rusty Barnes shines. There is enough and no more, and very often this takes the reader's breath away. 

Barnes' main characters run the gamut, from a drunkard's wife having an affair with her brother-in-law (What Needs to Be Done), and the small son of a drug addict waiting for his sister to come home (The Great Responsibility) to Beamer, the opera-loving dairy farmer (Beamer's Opera) , Pink the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Man (The Conscience Speaks) and a lust-filled adolescent grocery boy in Gross Imperfections. The stories range from the more realistic and gritty to magical, and each one transports the reader directly into its world. 

From the first lines of Barnes' stories you know immediately where you are: 

“I sat on my mother-in-law's fieldstone porch and snapped green beans into a huge silver bowl”; 

“Mathilde knew that Warren wanted nothing more than to be feral, a slavering beastly man prone to sudden rages, a man who might chase down a kill with great loping strides like a wolf, neatly hamstring it, and howl his success to the stars”; 

“When you speak to the ultrasound the way new fathers do, Pink the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Man, be sure to speak loudly because the doctors in the room cannot hear you.” 

Each story packs such a punch that it is not possible to read even two in one setting; each requires a pause, a laying down of the diminutive book, and contemplation. While you may only spend a short time with each of Barnes' characters, they stay with you for a long while afterwards, which must be the ultimate test of a great short story collection.


Tania Hershman is editor of The Short Review. Tania's first short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories, will be published by Salt Publishing in June 2008.


PublisherSunnyoutside Press

Publication Date: Nov 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio:Rusty Barnes grew up in rural northern Appalachia. He received his B.A. from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and his M.F.A. from Emerson College. His fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in many journals. After editing fiction for the Beacon Street Review (now Redivider) and Zoetrope All-Story Extra, he co-founded Night Train, a recently reinvented literary journal, which has been featured in the Boston Globe, The New York Times, and on National Public Radio.

Read an interview  with Rusty Barnes

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Sunnyoutside

The Author's website (for signed copy)




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