So, hours after writing about what books I look forward to reading that will be published this year, I jump back to a short story collection that won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction back in 1984, Why Men Are Afraid of Women--only 32 years ago. If there is a series I try to make sure I pick up every year, it's the Flannary O'Connor Award for Short Fiction titles. I've probably owned this collection for half a dozen years and today is the first time I've cracked the covers open.
I opted for the story "A Hunk of Burning Love" because it was originally published in The Missouri Review, a journal I've enjoyed in the past. It begins:
Gene is already there when I come through the door of the New Deal Cafe and Bar.
Nothing overly special. Concise and in the not too distant future of the story, Camoin allows the reader the knowledge that the narrator is Larry, a male co-worker of Gene's. Also that Larry is sleeping with the waitress at the New Deal, Rita. While the title of the collection notes how men are afraid of women, and dipping into a few more of the stories this evening, it is a common topic, "A Hunk of Burning Love" looks a little closer at how relationships between men can veer hard toward awkward.
Gene and Larry do outdoor work--on the particular day in question they are putting up fencing on a pasture. The conversation in the diner is a little odd; then the conversation while Gene drives Larry to the property they'll work on gets a little more stilted as Gene accuses Law-rence (as he calls him) of not understanding Elvis because he's from Chicago--among other things; and during the day while they work it all but disappears as they work mainly in silence. A key bit of information about Rita comes about and I think from that point forward Camoin has the reader feeling just as awkward listening in on their conversation as they seem to be themselves, which makes for a great read.
Besides creating some great characters, Camoin writes deceptively simple prose--in that it's not simple at all, but very accessible and clean. He's got some great descriptions:
...the sky is like a TV screen when the station is off the air, a blank waiting to be filled in.
And not long after that:
...the sky is like a page from a book that hasn't been written.
He looks at relationships, at working men, at small daily events that we all recognize but don't frequently see in stories. This story and the others I've had the chance to read so far are excellent. And in good news, the University of Georgia Press has republished this collection in paperback and as an eBook as of late 2013 and it's widely available again.