Stephen Graham Jones’s collection, States of Grace (Springgun Press) is spilling over with unique short-shorts that are compact, forceful and sharp, kind of like a razor blade you’d keep under your tongue. Similar to Dylan Nice’s Other Kinds, the stories are melancholy, bizarre, tender, and familial. As with any other collection of fierce short-shorts, the first sentences are barbed and laced with a noxious tonic that grab the reader by the scruff of the neck. Here are a few:
From “Modern Love”
My son’s first-grade teacher doesn’t shoot heroin any more.
From “Neither Heads Nor Tails”
My father lost his left nipple in a hunting-related accident.
Martin once tried to shoot a fish he put in a barrel.
After examining the facts for eight-odd years, in which both his wife and his job fell away like a second, unnecessary skin he’d never even known he had, Rick finally decided that it had been obvious, really, and, being not just rational but bound by the smallest indicators, he had no choice but to admit that that day he’d taken his four-year old son to the beach it had, yes, been almost solely to have him dragged out by a shark.
When Ton and Ricky and the rest of them came to shoot my brother in the street in front of our house, I was eleven years old.
From “Easy Money”
All we had to do was record the sound of a wooden bat on a human skull.
Jones takes on a variety of techniques throughout the book, but he’s never guilty of displaying simple literary stunts. Instead, the pieces have been skillfully and precisely crafted, and flow at a feverish pace with rhythm and fluidity:
and then there was the day the week the year my mother found the magazine I had hidden in such a perfect place, shuffled in with the rest of my magazines, and I don’t think she even told me at first but thought about it for a week, maybe two, looked at herself in the mirror a little too long some mornings, was too polite to me about staring into the refrigerator for minutes on end, and she never told my dad, either, but that was just because he was dead already so maybe he knew anyway, in the way dead people know things, which makes our skulls into glass . . .
If there had been a painting of that day, he knew, then he and Danny would have been at the center of it, every brushstroke radiating out from them. But there had been no painting and he hadn’t even known then to be looking for the brushstrokes.
From “Matinee: A Love Affair”
In the darkness of the theatre we did it too, stretching our fingertips up just to be part of it, a brief shadow. Even walking home we would find ourselves silhouetted against a building by approaching headlights and smile, then cast our eyes down over it, trying to affect a forlorn posture before the car swept past.
You can’t bleach everything, after all. At a certain point, the harsh smell starts to be the thing that gets you caught, not whatever it is you’re trying to erase.