BORN ON A TRAIN

John C. McManus, Author . Picador $14 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-30185-9

The remains of the Old South slouch miserably toward the New South in this forceful but uneven second collection of stories by McManus (Stop Breakin Down). The cast of characters includes Knoxville, Tenn., junkies and an aging belle erotically fixated on her callow grandnephew, but McManus's focus is the redneck culture of the state, where guns, beer and pickups confront air-conditioned malls, minivans and female empowerment. Most of his central figures are doomed masculine exotics—a good ol' boy on a crime spree, a trailer-park patriarch obsessed with his aristocratic bloodline, a hillbilly whose land is seized for a national park—who hold dead-end service-sector jobs (if any), drink, and express their thwarted Confederate machismo in cruelty to animals. They are objects of fascination for young, sensitive, often gay point-of-view characters who convey the author's lyrical romance with this squalid milieu. McManus's sensibility is that of a Tennessee Williams writing about impoverished hillbillies instead of fading Southern gentlefolk. He has an ear for punchy, pungent dialect ("he stops and spits a wad of juice down on the wood, it smacked down on the boards just smack") which contrasts starkly with the lush imagery of his authorial voice. Unfortunately, his characters are sometimes white trash caricatures, his images are more intense than evocative ("affection... oozed from his fingertips like tobacco spit") and the narrative tends to sag under the weight of hallucinatory prose poems. McManus's vigorous handling of dialogue and setting do not always add up to compelling insights. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/24/2003
Release date: 03/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-0687-7
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