This is the third in a series of short fiction by Southern writers, an anthology filled with the complexities of life below the Mason-Dixon Line. Some of the authors are familiar, some not, but all have a truth to tell and most perform an admirable job of storytelling, thanks to the diligence of editor Sonny Brewer, who writes an introduction that aptly sets the mood as Brewer strolls the streets of New Orleans.
Race lurks just below the surface, as it always has. But when Rick Bragg writes about Sylvester Croom in "Long Time Coming," there is a sense of hope and justice that crosses the color barrier of black and white with its harsh history of exclusion. Bragg reaches past the obvious and mines the humanity of men engaged in a tough, competitive sport.
The tentacles of poverty touch every aspect of families living in constant want, where lack breeds its own kind of discontent. One old cracked leather chair defines luxury in such a world, that and the pride of ownership ("Squirrel's Chair"). As a woman's life fades away in "It Wasn't All Dancing," she is daily confronted by society's changes and her own dwindling resources, longing for just a little more time to reminisce about girlhood as a Southern belle, still in the flush of her beauty.
Other stories cover familiar territory: the loss of a parent, love betrayed, the endless complications of humanity. Each story is that writer's perception of people's lives, small vignettes of hope, despair and acceptance. Some stories are shocking and memorable, like the unnecessary cruelty of an old man who caused grief to all who cared for him, leaving memories embedded on their souls, recurring nightmares to plague their sleep (Dayne Sherman's "Hard to Remember, Hard to Forget").
But the most attractive aspect of these stories is that each author speaks his truth unflinchingly, be it pleasant or ugly. Reality is not a commodity these Southerners fear; in fact they embrace it, truth a vehicle to understanding. At times uneven, the stories range from good to excellent. While all of the stories are above average quality, it is those small gems that jump out at the reader that make this anthology such a pleasure. In a paean to humanity at its best and worst with a Southern twist, Stories from the Blue Moon Cafe III evokes the bittersweet angst of a way of life so deeply embedded that its memory shrouds the future still.