Rusty Barnes writes stories that end about where they've started, or rise or sink a little towards some new beginning or end, and you never know which. These are spare tales that span a pretty vast terrain of suffering—abortion, teen pregnancy, men unsure of their masculinity, women hemmed in and tormented by those men. But there is a unifying voice, and vision, which is all Barnes', and—what I like best—you hardly know it's there. That said, Mostly Redneck isn't easy reading because of the fineness of the drill bit Barnes turns on all his characters in the early morning hours of their reckonings. You need to be there with him.
Here is Cheryl, a Dandee-Mart cashier, and Glenn, an ex-convict who fixes cars and beats women. They hooked up the night before at a bar, and later at Cheryl's place Glenn came on Cheryl's lap before he got it in. He left her some money and then disappeared. She found him the next day, sleeping in his truck.
He didn't have tinted windows like everyone else, and she saw him lolling there in the driver's seat, head back, mouth open, obviously passed out, with his coat thrown over his body like a blanket. Cheryl made as if to knock on the window when she looked inside. The passenger's seat had a half-empty jug of water, and the floor was littered with empty soda and beer cans, paper bags from fast food places, a plastic bag from Marshall's department store. The ashtray held a toothbrush and a new tube of toothpaste. There was a rolled-up towel pillowing his head. Glenn shifted in his seat to face her, and his eyes opened just a crack, and widened when they saw her; he hit the door locks and turned away. She thought about it for a minute, and not knowing what to do, got in her car.
There is little here that is explicit, but for all its quietness, this awkward and sad meeting delivers a startling realization. If you didn't feel sorry for Glenn before, the sight of him living out of his truck, about as flaccid as his prematurely ejaculating penis, gets you there.
And it comes out from behind a tree and hits you.
Cheryl, like the rest of Barnes' women, will go on living to the same soundtrack—a file of rotating Glenns come to sweep her off her feet and then disappointing.
In a word, if you're a writer yourself, these stories will humble you.
Mostly Redneck is put out by Sunnyoutside, an indie press out of Buffalo, NY.