Archive for June 15, 2010

Breaking it Down on a Tuesday Morning

When I was an undergraduate, I took a fiction writing class (I know — what happened to turn me towards poetry — it had nothing to do with the class, except that all my short stories seemed to turn out like soap opera scripts), where the professor taught a lot of minimalist literature, focusing on Raymond Carver. Since that time, I have been fascinated with minimalism, and/or literature that uses Hemingway’s “iceberg principle”. 

I have recently discovered a writer who makes use of the iceberg principle, an idea that suggests that more is underneath the surface than what can be seen on top.  Rusty Barnes’ Breaking it Down is a book of flash fiction which explores the lives of rural working class/poor characters.  Products of their environments, the characters often seem to be  motivated by sex and violence.  For example, the main character in the opening story titled “What Needs to Be Done” tolerates her loveless marriage by having an ongoing affair with her husband’s youngest brother. In another story, “Thunder & Putsy” the main character loses his hunting dog in a violent “accident.”

There’s a toughness in Barnes’ characters — it’s as if every character is all tough sinew, rugged muscle, taut skin.  We never really know for certain what makes these characters do the things they do, but we can certainly guess from their actions — which may be perceived as desperate or sad.  It’s as if every character is operating in survival mode — and survive is what they do: simply making it through each day seems to be the common goal of all the characters found in this collection.

Barnes’ work is so new to me that when I googled his name, I was pleased to see that he grew up near Mansfield, Pennsylvania, which is only a few hours away from where I live now.  (In rural Pennsylvania, three hours is relatively close).  I was also pleased to find his one website that he maintains, Fried Chicken and Coffee, which is a blogazine that explores rural and Appalachian literature.  Since my interest in working-class literature often intersects with Appalachian literature, I know that this is a website I will be visiting often.