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Reviewed by K M Steele for Readers' Favorite
Four American Tales by Jack Messenger is a collection of four short stories: Wichega, A Hundred Ways to Live, Ballbusters on Parade and Uncle Mort. All four are set in America, and each story is concerned with money and power, secrets and the way they shape people, and so much more. The author admits to a love of Hemingway in his foreword, and these stories do indeed echo Hemingway’s economic language and expression. They are insightful and incisive explorations of the human condition written in accessible, evocative prose. The collection begins with Wichega. This is a skilfully written gem that stays with the reader long after finishing. Narrated by Sweet Pea, a young girl who, in her naiveté, reveals the darker dynamics at work in her family, Wichega captures a Depression-era feel, including the bleakness of poverty and the simple pleasures of childhood with equal clarity.
The second story, A Hundred Ways to Live, has characters that jump off the page. The years of fear experienced by the female central character is intensely wrought, and the narrative builds to a feeling of deep foreboding. Ballbusters on Parade is the weakest of the short stories in Four American Tales. The heavy irony of the narrator cancels his final attempt at pathos; however, it is still well-written and easy to read. The last story, Uncle Mort, is again concerned with family secrets and has a satisfying conclusion. Overall, Jack Messenger’s Four American Tales is an enjoyable collection from a writer in command of his language and craft.