Tuesday, January 10, 2017

INSURRECTIONS :: Rion Amilcar Scott

"My man God doesn't have holy rent and holy bills to pay."

Rion Amilcar Scott's Insurrections is a short story collection that embodies the every man and woman getting by in the fictional town of Cross River, Maryland. Young and old, the working and the unemployed, those beset by demons and the ones who try to help them, even if they themselves don't have the wherewithal to do so. The stories in Insurrections are about people, relationships, and the cracks and fissures that make each one unique, in strength and weakness alike.

In Good Times, Walter saves the life of his upstairs neighbor Rashid, a young father torn between his love for his family and his thoughts of suicide. All Walter wants to do is enjoy his Good Times sitcom reruns, but he's continually interrupted by Rashid, distraught over his misguided efforts to be worthy of his family, visits that light a fire under Walter's own demons and threaten his relationship with his wife.

The impact of family tragedy is at the forefront of A Friendly Game, in which a once-proud mother and library assistant who read to the local children swirls into drug addiction following the death of her son. "Joan's husband came one day with tiny white rocks, a butane lighter, and a glass pipe. What a brief intense dizzying derangement. Slipping from yourself for a few moments. That's how she described it and little by little, each time, less and less of her returned."

Years later, Joan is a street lady, tortured by the very boys she read to, who now see her as nothing more than a means to debase and destabilize each other in their own struggles over women and stature.

The way years of abuse can alter a mindset is highlighted in The Slapsmith. Nicolette is so used to being mistreated she can't even recognize real help when she finds it. Or did she find it? "Men having fun could sure sound menacing sometimes."

As a whole, Scott's stories are well-crafted and aspects of them linger long after reading. Individually, they are sometimes odd, often sorrowful, every once in a while providing a glimmer of hope. To his credit, Scott engages the reader, this one at least, in circumstances that range from recognizable to foreign to almost inconceivable. These are stories of people constantly at odds, fighting to find their way. It's not a new premise, but Scott's delivery is well worth the trip.

STREET SENSE:  A  satisfying and moving collection of stories about those up against it. Written with grace and complexity with rich characters and brutality drawn bare, this collection is recommended for those who don't thrive on Hollywood endings.

COVER NERD SAYS:  As a fan of bird imagery, this cover spoke to me immediately. I'm not even sure if I can relate the cover to the material. The birds all seem to be flying in somewhat similar directions. The characters in these stories certainly are not. The birds are different in color. These stories are centered on the African American experience in the town of Cross River. But maybe, no matter what color bird we are or what direction we're facing, we're all in the shit together and wouldn't it be nice if we could all give each other a little draft? Ok, probably too deep and far afield. Let's just say I love this cover, deep imagery or not.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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