Picks and Pans Review: Afoot in a Field of Men
Pat Ellis Taylor's first-person mode and her sure feel for the rhythms of Texas' down-and-out side lend an involving tone of autobiography to this vivid collection of short stories. A character appropriately named Pat narrates the stories. She begins at age 15 in Arkansas, rolling in church aisles. God-chasing, she calls it: "...this fundamental way of seeing god has also been mixed up with ess-ee-ex...they don't say it, they do it." She gives up the chase and marries a newspaperman from El Paso. They divorce, and she ends up sharing her home with Leo, the "poet-lover," and 18-year-old Morgani, her dyslexic son, who dreams of being a rock and roll star. Meanwhile Pat worries that the landlord couple (members of Brother Crumwell's Hard-Sell Baptist Church) will smell the pot wafting down from her apartment. When her brother, Okie, shoots a man, Taylor takes the reader "into the kitchen just in time to see Thieving John's head become a red bloom." These stories play out like memories and blend into one cohesive narrative, the way Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio did. But unlike Anderson's narrator George Willard, Taylor's stands at the center of most of her stories. She gets too broad at times; Pat works for a while in the law offices of "Score, Hunk, Martial and Fool." Generally though, the Texas-born Taylor, who works in an Austin bookstore, flavors her stories with subtle wit and compassion for the characters moving in and out of Pat's life. Taylor's objective tone, too, seems to shrug off life's injustices, while her recurring scenes in all-night doughnut shops catering to over-the-hill hookers and hippies take on a vibrant life, like pieces of Edward Hopper paintings fading into reality. (Atlantic Monthly, paper, $6.95)
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