Friday, March 3, 2017

DMI2017, Week 9: "Most Things Haven't Worked Out" by William Boyle

Nine weeks in, the Three of Clubs takes me to a new collection for the first time. Mississippi Noir, edited by Tom Franklin, is a collection of noir stories set in various places in Mississippi. It's a volume in the Akashic Noir series, which was previously unknown to me. This series started in 2004 with the publication of Brooklyn Noir, with stories all set in and around Brooklyn. The series has expanded to dozens of titles at this point, covering cities and locations all over the globe. Methinks it's excellent fodder for future iterations of Deal Me In!


This week's story, "Most Things Haven't Worked Out," takes place in Holly Springs, Mississippi. It's a small city in north Mississippi, just south of the border with Tennessee. The protagonist, a 15-year-old named Jalen, is a loner and outcast who spends a lot of his time watching movies at the library. But one day an employee from the nearby Audubon Center (a real location in Holly Springs) comes to the library and gives a presentation on birds. This is Miss Mary, who becomes the object of Jalen's fascination. Part of the fascination is the fact that she has moved to Mississippi from New York, a magical place in Jalen's mind. Mary befriends Jalen and invites him to the Center for a day of fun activities, just the two of them. He takes her up on the offer and they spend the day together, talking about their lives and experiences. It turns out that Mary is something of an outcast and loner as well -- she has moved to Mississippi for a reason, and it wasn't a good one, evidently.

It's not long before we begin to get an inkling of what that reason was. Mary's mother, Edna, suddenly shows up, and she's not happy. She has tracked Mary all the way from New York, so we learn that Mary is in hiding from something bad. Mostly that something bad is Edna -- she's a rough character who killed Mary's father for insurance money. But then Mary took the money and made off with it to Mississippi. She tells Edna she has buried it on the Audubon Center's property somewhere, so Edna embarks on a mission to "convince" Mary to tell her where the money is hidden. Mostly this involves torturing Jalen, who is suddenly caught up in the middle of all this darkness.

The story spirals downward, of course, being a noir story, and there's no redemption for anyone except possibly Mary, who does finally get away with her money. But it becomes clear that this episode was the beginning of the end for Jalen, as the title of the story suggests. So even though this was a good story, it was still pretty depressing. However, for the excellent writing and the way the author sucks the reader into the story, I'm happy to give it five stars.

Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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