Stories by Jerry Wilson
Publisher: Mongrel Empire Press
When author Carter Revard reviewed Blackjacks & Blue Devils, he wrote, "Steinbeck could have learned a lot from this book." So, I was intrigued enough to buy it. I mean, that's really something to say about one of the Great American Novelists, and it sets up quite the expectations.
It's possible that Revard was referring to the idea that Steinbeck could learn brevity from Jerry Wilson. Where John was notoriously long-winded, Jerry was VERY short and sweet. But all jokes aside, here is my take on Revard's comparison: both Steinbeck and Wilson set out to encapsulate the spirit of America's past. Our pioneerism (I looked that up, and it is NOT a word apparently, but I like it anyway. What can I say, perhaps I'm a linguistic pioneer?) These stories reveal American heart. Our cruelty, our greed, our lust. Our assiduous work ethic. Wilson's theme takes us through the landscapes of Oklahoma, those stretches of dry earth where history rises like a dust storm. And yes, The Grapes of Wrath begins in Oklahoma, too - but I believe Wilson's book accomplishes something very different.
While I am refuting Carter Revard's claim, I am also giving a nod to Wilson, who is genuine and true to his own style - not copying Steinbeck or attempting to beat out other novelists of the frontier. Instead, he is shining new light on old backdrops, illuminating voices that strike the heart in a different way.
Wilson's book is a series of snapshots. It is a flip-book through Central American history. His fluid writing style and piercing descriptions pulled me into quick breaths of time: The Dust Bowl, Oklahoma Land Runs (which, to be honest, I didn't know about before reading this book), the Depression and bootlegging. These quick snapshots of the past are characterized by strong emotion and people who just as well could be real.
Mongrel Empire Press strives to find quality, thoughtful literature without regards to genre, discipline, or author biographies. As its name implies, its publications are a wild mix of styles, genres, and topics - though the press does admit to a little favoritism toward Oklahoma authors. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see a press that isn't concerned about sticking to a marketable theme, but merely high-calibre writing.