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Back You are here: Home Reports from Real Life Oh, The Things We've Seen! Reviews Unaccustomed Mercy
Thursday, 22 September 2011 04:23

Unaccustomed Mercy

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--He hates the night because there is no rest--he hates the day because it moves towards night.--

 --'Have you hidden him in the past?'--

 --Old shadows descend on the room like a judgment. Something deeper than sadness washes over my body, and, for the first time, I can see myself as I really am -- a broken toy, a defective machine bent by a brutal hand. I know something vital has been stolen from me and there's no way I can ever get it back -- not with overpaid doctors, multicolored pills or sweet prayers to Jesus. For me, there is no redemption--no road home.--

CvrMercy Web2Unaccustomed Mercy by DB Cox hits hard and often, and then harder. For such a short collection, it weighs mightily. These are stories of the hopeless, of the down and out, of all the outcasts and forgotten men that ghost through every city across america. More than that, these are men who are haunted, often by the extreme violence of war--particularly Vietnam--the pestilence that ravaged a generation of men. Within these stories, mercy is death, rather than forgiveness or salvation. For these men, escape into nonexistence appears to be the goal, even as they hold on, almost lazily, reluctantly, confused as to why their hands shake though their mind's been made or how they somehow forgot to load the gun.

It brought Thom Jones to mind, as I think they write about similar people, though, if possible, Cox gets darker and somehow never feels forced, almost as if he casually sits amongst the demons, mocks them even as they prod at him viciously, endlessly. These stories carry [shattered] souls within them, so far from sunlight that they're unaware how the darkness grows and consumes them. Too, along with Jones, I'm reminded, at times, of Camus' The Stranger and Meursault. I would say, though, that Cox writes, really, like neither. His prose is simple and bare with touches of the poetic. At times it may stumble or feel a bit clumsy in the mouth, against the eyes, but that, somehow, never manages to diminish the power of the stories or distract the reader from what's important: the characters.

There is a story near the end: The Hole. It is short and it sums up the entire collection, I think, more succinctly than this review or any review could possibly do. I'll not say much, and it's only about a page long, but it is stark and bleak and darker than black.

But even as the hope has long since died, there are a few moments of taking it back, of taking life--or something like it--back, even if only through manufacturing one's own tragedy.

--It's quiet here, inside my head. The hum of the machine, just blue static in the distance. Each time, I'm able to stay here a little longer. Soon I'll be strong enough to stay here permanently. Here, where I control time--slow it down, speed it up as I please. The hands of the clock move at my command. A world without motion where I can sit and wait. I can wait for as long as it takes.--

Solipsistic, perhaps, in that these stories are very inward turned, often dealing with only one or two men. Always men. Always well past beaten: cowed, broken. And if I have a main criticism for this collection, it would be that. It is exceedingly insular and does not attempt, really, to go beyond its scope. It is completely lacking in females, as an ideal, as people, as anything. This is all masculinity all the time. That being said, what this collection does well, what it does right is maybe everything else. It is exactly what it intends to be, without artifice. And while the stories within are quite heavy they manage not to be heavyhanded. Simple and direct. Cox does not point a mirror at us but digs a hole into a world of people we may never have known, who we may never again encounter, but, for the moments we exist on the page with his creation, we are lost, our hearts breaking, the words shipwrecking round us, the howling blues singing us down to hell.


DB Cox


DB Cox is a blues musician/writer from South Carolina. His poems and short stories have been published extensively in the small press, in the US, and abroad. He has published five books of poetry:“Passing For Blue,” “Lowdown,” “Ordinary Sorrows,” “Nightwatch,” and “Empty Frames.” He has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. Rank Stranger Press has just published his new collection of short stories called “Unaccustomed Mercy.”



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Last modified on Friday, 16 March 2012 19:42
edward j rathke

Getting foppish since '96.

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