In Breaking it Down, Rusty Barnes lays bare the lives of the vulnerable as they traverse the difficult paths of love. Short and punchy, these stories show the cumulative effects of heartbreak and simple dreams while keeping a reserve of hope in even the darkest of circumstances.
Rusty Barnes is a 2018 Derringer finalist and author of the story collections Breaking it Down (Sunnyoutside Press 2007) , Mostly Redneck (Sunnyoutside Press 2011), and Kraj The Enforcer: Stories (Shotgun Honey 2019), as well as four novels, Reckoning (Sunnyoutside Press, 2014), Ridgerunner (Shotgun Honey/Down & Out Books, 2017), Knuckledragger (Shotgun Honey/Down & Out Books 2017) and The Last Danger (Shotgun Honey/Down & Out Books 2018), His fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals and anthologies, like Dirty Boulevard: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of Lou Reed (Down & Out Books 2018), Best Small Fictions 2015, Mystery Tribune, Goliad Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Red Rock Review, Porter Gulch Review and Post Road. His poetry collections include On Broad Sound (Nixes Mates Press, 2016) and Jesus in the Ghost Room, (Nixes Mates Press 2017). He founded and edits Tough, a journal of crime fiction and occasional reviews. Find him on Twitter @rustybarnes23
This slim volume of short stories punches way above its weight.
When I first saw the volume, tiny with multiple flash fiction entries, I thought I would finish the entire thing within an hour or so of reading. I was wrong, and it turned out to be a great thing.
Many of the stories are so lively and dense that it took two readings just to get caught up in the world. And each story, though small, is a different world. The stories don't interconnect, and you have the feeling that the author knows the universe of each story so well that each four page story could be a novel. That being said, there is a distinct voice that runs throughout all of the stories, with common themes--lost love, quiet dignity and indignity, the rise of the meek, subtle revolutions of spirit.
"Gross Imperfections" and "Class" were two of my favorites and will warrant reading and re-reading. I'm sure you will find your own favorites, and read them over and over again.
I had the pleasure of meeting author Rusty Barnes at the Boxcar Lounge in the East Village recently. This was the first of a new reading series hosted by Tuesday Shorts' Shelly Rich. He read three stories from his book Breaking it Down, an excellent collection of 18 flash fiction stories in a handy pocket-size paperback.
It's truly amazing what Barnes can accomplish with so few words. A story is considered flash fiction if it is not more than 1,000 words, and Barnes uses even less than that at times. But the characters he creates, their worlds and histories, their dreams, hopes, and regrets speak volumes. His prose pulls you right in, as with this opener to "Beamer's Opera":
Every morning when Beamer milked the cows he sang from his favorite operas, attaching the nozzles to their bags and patting them each on the flank, bursting into vibrato-laden songs of despair and longing while his hands were occupied with his very necessary tasks. He imagined the cows with their deep brown eyes and kind souls were listening to him as he roared forth regret and lust and love and sorrow in an alien tongue.
I definitely recommend this book. I couldn't put it down; as soon as I finished one story, I was on to the next before I even realized it. You might say I read this book in a flash. ; )
Everything about this book will surprise you ~ from its slender, itty-bitty size to the way Rusty Barnes manages to craft 18 stay-with-you-forever stories in less than a hundred of those itty-bitty pages.
When the book arrived, I picked it up and thought I'd run through it quickly ~ in an evening, say. But as I read, I found myself wanting, NEEDING to slow down and wait before moving on. I read "What Needs to Be Done," for instance, and couldn't bring myself to just plunge ahead into the next story. I needed time to rest the book on my lap and just *drift* in Derry's universe for a while. And this kept happening. I'd read a story, chew hard on my big mouth full of WOW, and be reluctant to leave.
And so the little book I thought I'd breeze through ended up taking me eighteen days to finish because why? Because Rusty Barnes is a flash fiction GOD. Seriously. I now officially worship him.
Rusty Barnes proves with this gritty collection two very important points. First, that the short story is most assuredly not a dead art form. People, you can stop spreading that lie. Second he firmly shows me, a very picky woman, that a man can write brilliantly in a female voice. Maybe, just maybe, this book has given me a little more hope for the souls of every man. It is vivid and raw, edgy yet classy. I recommend it to my tattoo artist as well as to my mother.
I was lucky to get a copy of this beautifully designed book. The stories don't disappoint, either. Barnes has his own voice, something hard to develop, and stories like "Beamer's Opera" and "Dance" stood out for me. Gritty, humanistic, with no pat endings. I look forward to the next book.
Rusty Barnes' Breaking it Down is a book of flash fiction which explores the lives of rural working class/poor characters. Products of their environments, the characters often seem to be motivated by sex and violence. For example, the main character in the opening story titled "What Needs to Be Done" tolerates her loveless marriage by having an ongoing affair with her husband's youngest brother. In another story, "Thunder & Putsy" the main character loses his hunting dog in a violent "accident."
There's a toughness in Barnes' characters -- it's as if every character is all tough sinew, rugged muscle, taut skin. We never really know for certain what makes these characters do the things they do, but we can certainly guess from their actions -- which may be perceived as desperate or sad. It's as if every character is operating in survival mode -- and survive is what they do: simply making it through each day seems to be the common goal of all the characters found in this collection.
For all fans of flash fiction, Barnes' collection is a must read!
Rusty Barnes can slip into any skin. He inhabits God as He shakes some paternal passion into Pink--who's got a Harley parked outside the obstetrician's, a pregnant girlfriend in the stirrups, and an unwanted sonogram in his hand. "You are not moving, and I understand that, beause I'm finally getting through to you," says God, who could almost be leaning in the doorway with a beer, "the least little bit of knowledge has cracked your brainpan, and buddy…" Barnes inhabits a husband watching a woman make love to his wife. They're in a bathroom, he's naked, dispossessed, "wondering what, exactly, that it is about the sound of water on porcelain that is so lonely..." Eighteen flash stories shift from desperation to inspiration across 100 palm-sized pages. Full disclosure: my work's been in Night Train magazine, which Barnes edits. Still. Great book.
The grit of these stories stays with you for a long time, and better yet, these well written micro/flash stories are moving as well as unforgettable. Things are often not what they seem but in very creative ways. They can be opposite of where the reader thinks they are going or completely over the edge of the cliff the reader is balancing on.
The story "Beamer's Opera," is an amazing tapestry of work which can be viewed in more than one way. It, as all 18 of the stories in Breaking It Down, was crafted in only a few pages. “What Needs to Be Done,” the first story in the collection sets the tone, where in this one, a woman who is stuck in a bad marriage with a drunken southern farmer fuels her life with an affair in the barn with the man's son.
Measuring in at 4 ½ by 5 ½ inches, Barnes' little book tells 18 stories that are both poignant and memorable. Barnes is a master of Flash Fiction, who says more in a paragraph than can usually be found in a page. (Read more on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/review/R3RTTR0P...)
As I read—or more accurately, devoured—Rusty Barnes’ collection of flash fiction, I couldn’t help thinking of an exquisite Japanese Buddhist meal with its a tray of tiny dishes, each serving up a tidbit of austere, perfectly-crafted, and ultimately enlightening fare. Fresh images and elegant prose make a bracing contrast to the gritty and all-too-real characters who populate these brief tales. Often unable to inarticulate their desires and despair, they ultimately do find the strength to do “what needs to be done” as the title of the opening story suggests. I was particularly impressed with the exploration of sexuality in many of these stories. Adultery, partner-swapping, disappointed housewives taking out their frustration in the arms of visiting handymen—Barnes pierces through the clichés to touch the tender, wounded heart of erotic desire. My only problem was that I found myself racing through the stories to find out what happens next and finished the book all too quickly. This is one of those rare dishes indeed—a literary page-turner. Fortunately, this is a book that will only get better with repeated readings.
Many thanks to sunnyoutside for publishing a book I can carry in my back pocket, and to Rusty Barnes for writing such a wonderful collection of stories. The characters in Breaking it Down--a collection of 18 very short stories--live on rural farms as well as behind the facade of well manicured lawns. The writing is sharp and clean, the situations often tragic, and the endings leave me touched by the humanity of characters driven to cheat on partners, ignore phone calls that may be from their child, or remain in unhealthy, even destructive, relationships. The world in Breaking it Down is not a kind place, but it is a striking one filled with heartbreak, loneliness, and imagination. I enjoyed the collection very much.
While these stories are all more vignettes than the fully developed short-shorts of Barnes's stunning Mostly Redneck, all the other Barnes hallmarks are here: the stark but poetic prose, the attention to character detail that feels quaint until it slaps you in the face, the quiet enormity of everyday lives.... It's a fast read, and sometimes it feels too fast, but only because Barnes's writing is addictive and you end each story craving the next fix. Thank goodness I now have Barnes's first novel, Reckoning, to look forward to! In the meantime, this is a beautiful little book -- another gem from both Barnes and sunnyoutside press.