By: Jimmy Carl Harris
Reviewed by: Sue Walker
Iris Press, 2006
To read this book of short fiction is to think of Flannery O’Connor, who was known for her ability to write powerful tales of truth and terror that cut to the core of being uniquely human, often flawed, and in need of grace. As O’Connor says, "When the poor hold sacred history in common, they have concrete ties to the universal and the holy which allow the meaning of their every action to be heightened and seen under the aspect of eternity..." Or as Harris puts it: "Church doors are open to saints and sinners alike." O’Connor’s misfit in "A Good Man is Hard to Find," who shot women and children, would be at home in the pages of Walking Wounded.
Harris possesses an astute sense of storytelling. His characterizations are masterful and his dialogue sure. He writes of veterans, trailer dwellers, loose women, those at war with themselves and others, fighting battles that lie beyond easy comprehension. With such stark and memorable lines as "Blind girls’ eyes make tears just like normal girls" in the story "Dark Dancing," Harris makes the reader see up close and personal, and feel at home in places where there are junctions that may have some permanent caustic effect on the brain and the soul.
Although the author, a retired Marine Corps sergeant major, writes of war and returning in order to figure out life, his stories are steeped in Alabama. Harris creates a mythical Nall County, but he also mentions Birmingham, the University of Alabama, and Tuscaloosa. Place is an important element in defining who the characters are in the coal mines and cotton fields, where potatoes and onions frying smell almost as good as squirrel and dumplings. Harris understands human nature, even while he paints the dark underbelly of sin with a wide brush.
Sue Walker is Chair of the English Department at the University of South Alabama and Poet Laureate of Alabama.