cover image Songs for the Deaf

Songs for the Deaf

John Henry Fleming. Burrow Press (Itasca, dist.), $15.99 trade paper (172p) ISBN 978-0-9849538-5-1

In his first collection of stories, novelist Fleming (The Legend of the Barefoot Mailman) serves as ringmaster to a motley variety of characters, including cowards, self-proclaimed messiahs, and ghostly hitchhikers. In the title story, deputy sheriff Jeremy Jones struggles to understand the appeal of his opera-singing childhood nemesis, Tony Sutter, aka “the Magnificent Antonio,” for the fellow inhabitants of his small town. “Xenophilia” depicts one evening from multiple perspectives, Rashomon-style, as the military, townspeople, and police officers converge on a local restaurant to capture a crash-landed alien and its scientist paramour, while in “Cloud Reader,” frontier justice seals the fate of the oracular title character. Several stories aim for satire, and some hit the mark, like the let’s-strengthen-our-family-by-climbing-Everest antics of “Chromolungma.” Others, though, wilt under too much cleverness—particularly “The Day of Our Lord’s Triumph (with Marginal Notes for Children),” an account of a teenage boy’s miraculous victory over high school bullies, written as a parody of Christian devotional texts. Where Fleming truly excels is in the briefest story, “A Charmed Life,” which traces a lovable loser protagonist’s travels with straight-faced sincerity, showing what a skilled writer can accomplish in just a few short pages. (Mar.)