Praying Drunk

By Kyle Minor

(Sarabande, $15.95, 192 pages)

Who is this author?

For an author who is not yet 40, Kyle Minor has racked up a quite impressive list of honors.  Minor won the 2012 Iowa Review Prize for Short Fiction and the Kroger Prize for Short Fiction, was a three-time honoree in the annual Atlantic Monthly writing contest and was selected as one of Random House’s Best New Voices of 2006. His work has appeared in The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Iowa Review,, Best American Mystery Stories 2008, Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers, and Forty Stories: New Voices from Harper Perennial. He also is the author of the 2008 story collection, In Devil’s Territory. He grew up in Florida and has lived in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

What is this book about?

Tortured souls, including some who have actually been physically tortured, abound in this complex collection. While this is a book of short stories, Minor instructs his readers that they are meant to be read in order, as themes and events and characters play return engagements in these tales set in Kentucky, Florida and Haiti. You will encounter people who speak in tongues, bully a classmate, seek God, fail to find God and battle despair. Minor creates people who embark on the great struggle to maintain faith in a world of random pain.  “Praying Drunk” is a sobering book.

Why you’ll like it:

Kyle Minor is unafraid to tackle the downside of belief and the grimness so many find in life, but while there is a lot of unhappiness in this book, Minor handles it so skillfully and intelligently that it uplifts, rather than depresses. His characters struggle and do not always succeed, but it is the struggle that counts. Adding to the complex nature of this collection is his use of repeating themes and characters, a layering that adds depth to these already provocative tales.

What others are saying:             

The Los Angeles Times says:  Kyle Minor’s “Praying Drunk” offers a grim, gripping view of men and women still searching for the miraculous. Evangelists embark on missions to Haiti hoping to save anyone, if not just themselves; grieving family members struggle with questions of faith in the face of mounting evidence that they have no business having any; and a young narrator is tortured over and over again in school.

“To read “Praying Drunk” is to open yourself up to the type of rumination that some might be afraid of: namely, how can anyone have faith when humans do so much to distort godliness? The stories in Kyle Minor’s second collection are tender, searching and reflect onto one another. . . . tales are told over and over again from different perspectives, with facts erased, altered or added. Characters inhabiting one story pop into others, shifting our belief in who the characters are and who they wish to be. Minor quotes a teacher in the story “Q&A”: “Our job is to identify the distance between the story we’ve been telling ourselves about our lives — the received story, or the romantic story, or the wishful thinking — and replace it with the story that experience is revealing about our lives, the story that is more true.”

Says the New York Times Book Review: “Kyle Minor wants you to know that Praying Drunk is not actually, or only, a collection. In the epigraph, he warns: “These stories are meant to be read in order. This is a book, not just a collection. DON’T SKIP AROUND.’ Minor is right to insist. The stories may span decades as they move from Kentucky to Haiti and points between, but they work in concert to slowly reveal the landscape of an emotionally desolate quasi-America sinking under the weight of its own faith. . . . Minor writes beautifully about these ruined lives.”

In a starred review, Kirkus says: “An award-winning short fiction author offers 12 stories so ripe with realism as to suggest a roman à clef. . . .”In a Distant Country” is the most affecting, ringing with the haunted truths of Shakespearean tragedy—a missionary in Haiti, his teenage bride, the Duvaliers overthrown, his death, her disappearance—a tale unfolding in six letters from witnesses. It’s the 10th tale, but don’t read it first. In sequence, the stories present a powerful reflective narrative, offering perspectives on friends, family and faith. Stories cut to the heart—a teen helps his father chop a pink piano into kindling before he “walked toward this woodpile with a loaded shotgun and blew off his head”; then the boy’s funeral is rendered through multiple stories. Then come stories of the narrator’s brother, a Nashville musician, cheated and misused, who quits, finds a good job and then quits again . . . .Pain and loss range from Ohio to Tennessee to Kentucky to Florida to Haiti, with prose ringing with the hard-edged, mordant clarity of Southern writing. A preacher turns the making of biscuits into a funeral parable, and there’s more sardonic play with faith, as when a character sniffs up methadone powder: “There’s the line, gone up like the rapture.” That surrealistic piece follows a bereaved father who recreates a dead son as a bionic robot to win back his wife. This brilliant collection unfolds around a fractured narrative of faith and friends and family, loved and lost, an arc of stories in which characters find reason to carry on even after contemplating a “God with agency enough to create everything…and apathy enough to let it proceed as an atrocity parade.” There’s cynicism and despair and nihilism in the collection, certainly, but there’s courage too and a measure of blood-tinged beauty.”

Publishers Weekly says: “Similar to a great magic trick, the 13 stories in Minor’s  latest lure reader investment with strong visuals while simultaneously pulling the rug out from underfoot with clever, literary sleights–of-hand. Though not necessarily linked in the traditional sense, there is a sequential order to the collection—ideas, locations, incidents, and characters echo as the volume chugs forward—and the result is an often dazzling, emotional, funny, captivating puzzle. At the heart of the book are the Haitian tales “Seven Stories About Sebastian of Koulèv-Ville” and “In a Distant Country.” Set within the same village, though separated by decades, the narratives follow the lives of missionaries and the natives they look to aid during the Duvalier dictatorship and after the 2010 earthquake. The ideas of trust and faith run deep, and these emotions bleed throughout the collection, particularly in the narratives concerning a character akin to the author, who frets over his musician brother (in “There Is Nothing but Sadness in Nashville”), his dying grandfather (in “First, the Teeth”), and his own convictions (in “You Shall Go Out with Joy and Be Led Forth with Peace” and its companion, “Suspended”). Minor’s continuous play with form keeps the book fresh, despite a somewhat distracting presentation.”

Booklist says: “Minor’s first book of short fiction, In the Devil’s Territory (2008), introduced a talented writer with a penchant for experimental repetition and extraordinary vision, whose characters struggle to contain or divulge the dark secrets faith and family conceal. This well-honed second book consists of a series of linked narratives dealing again with questions of religion and kin, spanning Kentucky, Florida, and Haiti. The book deserves to be read sequentially, not because it’s arranged in chronological order but because characters and conceits recur, eventually coalescing into heartrending closure. In one instance, Minor tells the story of a son’s suicide from multiple perspectives, spinning off seemingly peripheral characters, only to take up alternate points of view in subsequent stories. Elsewhere, a rational young man questions his romantic interest’s spiritual awakenings, which include speaking in tongues and dangerous visions. Minor writes with the descriptive clarity of Denis Johnson, the jigsaw-like structuring of Sherwood Anderson, and the Appalachian acuity of Jayne Anne Phillips. Certainly one to read and enjoy and to watch for in the future.”

When is it available?

The Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Mark Twain branch have copies available for borrowing.

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