I don’t recall ever actually resorting to this description before, but the word “yarn” lingered in my thoughts continuously as I read this collection of diverse short stories. And even that doesn’t do them justice. They don’t so much have a beginning and an end in the sense that stories normally do. They are a launch pad for thought without deliberately promoting any particular intellectual or political agenda. It’s entertainment for thought at its best.
McBride is a master storyteller. The prose is colorful and flows quickly. I was turning the pages so quickly I felt compelled to check the size of the font to understand why. It was the prose, however, not the font, that ultimately enticed me to gallop through the pages.
Like most readers will be inclined to do, I searched for a common denominator to each of the stories. And there are a few. There is a history of color that runs throughout, for example. In the end, however, I think that the message of this book is like the wind itself, blowing both through your hair and everywhere around you all at the same time, refusing to be channeled or characterized. And that is what makes the wind and this book so liberating.
One of the stories takes place in an area of Uniontown, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh, known as The Bottom. A teacher of one of the more athletic local boys goes to his home to talk to his mother. “Are you Seymour’s mother?” Miss McIntyre asked. “If you mean is I the someone who teaches him not to brush his teeth and clean his nose out in public, yes, I am his mother,” Mrs. Shays said. “But if you from social services and come out here fending and providing and pretending you know everything, which must be a terrible strain on a person, then I ain’t nobody.” To the inevitable follow up, she says, “If it look like buzzard and smell like buzzard, miss, in ain’t catfish.”
In one story involving The Gatekeeper to you-know-where, one particularly recalcitrant and feisty boxer, unmistakably modeled after Muhammad Ali says, “Take that robe off and fight, you devil you. Pull that hood off. Lordy, that mug of yours must look bad as a snake bite. You so ugly you keep your eyes closed when you kiss your wife—so you won’t see her suffer.”
I normally reserve a 5 rating for books that are truly transformative. And that is a very high standard for fiction to achieve. This book clears that bar, however, not because it will transform your thinking so much as it will simply transform the time you spend reading it. It’s a true delight without ever begging to be delightful.