cover image Pasture Art

Pasture Art

Marlin Barton. Hub City (John F. Blair, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-938235-10-8

This fine assembly of seven short stories and one novella from Barton (The Dry Well) is set in his native state of Alabama. The well-plotted novella, “Playing War,” has vivid characters including Carrie Fuller, a dental assistant in her 40s, who clashes with her brusque husband, Foster. A lifelong deer hunter, he heads a gang of fellow enthusiasts, including his employee Dale Tilghman. He confides in Carrie’s father, an arthritic retiree, how the hunting accident that killed his older brother, Bruce, came while the bored hunters played “a game of war.” Adding to the tension, Bruce was Carrie’s lover while she and Foster dated. After her father repeats the tale to her, Carrie suspects Foster murdered Bruce in retaliation. Carrie’s investigation revs up the domestic strife, but the author smartly keeps things restrained, thereby making the tension stronger. The fresh and original title story concerns teenager Leah attending summer school while caring for her alcoholic mother. To her credit, Leah stays hopeful that she can graduate and escape her emotional prison. In “Watching Kaylie,” the young Kaylie doesn’t fare as well in kicking her heroin addiction. The bait-shop proprietor, Aaron, who loves her, wants to play her savior. During a surprisingly candid moment, she reveals he’s a “better man” than his brother Charles, her dope supplier. This standout short story with its gut-punch ending anchors Barton’s captivating third fiction collection, which is reminiscent of Larry Brown’s gritty Southern storytelling. (Mar.)