This Jerkwater Life
(Short Story Literary)
By James Berndt
A growing clash between the Native American tribes and Douglas’ hometown inhabitants invades every aspect of his life, all the way down to the recent death of his father. In a way, both seem to haunt him as he tries to find a way to carry on.
What I liked about this story is it keeps things simple. Every line gives just enough without going overboard, like some writers like to do.
The next day Shawna stops by, asks if I want to check out the new coffee shop. We’ve never had a real coffee shop in Mercer. Not unless you count the bait shop.
The narrator’s voice is tranquil and without guile, just as you’d expect from a small town person. This isn’t to say his thinking is limited.
But as much as Douglas may be a reflection of the surrounding small town minds, he is also a true offspring from both his parents. His father fit very neatly into the mentality of the world around him, as does Douglas at times, but he also has a sense of introspection from his mother who only married the father after mistaking him as a deep person because of a statue of Don Quixote he had.
The other characters are well depicted, too. Shawna comes off strong and distinct, and even Marty, his employee, reads just like an average Joe from the Wisconsin north. The author clearly knows his material.
If there is a fault, it seems to always lie here, in the structure. We understand he’s not one hundred percent sure how he feels about his father’s death—though the end seems to paint it in a way that he believes he’s at fault. I don’t see that though. The strongest part is the ever-growing dispute between Native Americans and the rednecks. Yet, even after hearing that two whites pretty much stomped a Native American boy to death, there is no retribution or confrontation. The revenge Douglas and Shawna get ends up feeling just as hollow as Douglas’ morose guilt toward his father. If anything, I just wanted something a little more powerful.
It’s a quick, and fairly enjoyable read—well worth the ninety-nine cents. Coming from a small town in Wisconsin, I fully understood the narrator’s viewpoint and felt a bit at home in the story. Still, it just didn’t shine perfectly for me. Not to mention moments when the writing became a little to conscious or aware of itself, like when Shawna comments, “Don’t you just love this jerkwater town?” or later when, out of the blue, she brings up her stepfather killing her mom. Unfortunately, I like a seamless read and this book fell just shy of it.
Check out his book here
And the author’s website, here.