Skip to main content

Playboy Fiction Review: "Back Down Home" by Chris Offutt

Issue: April 2014

When I added the august and revered Playboy Magazine to my fiction reviewing "stable" last month, I kicked it off with a bang (no pun intended) with one by the great literary short story writer Stuart Dybek. This month's short fiction contributor, Chris Offutt, undoubtedly has his niche--he's publised a few short story collections, a memoir, and has indie film and major T.V. credits under his belt--but he can't have earned that niche writing stories like "Back Down Home."

This very short story takes place during one evening (maybe two hours) in the life of "Tolliver," a man in his late middle-age, 30 years an exile from his home in a rural county of Kentucky, who has decided to return with his much younger and apparently very sexy wife in tow. The Tolliver family must have caused some serious trouble in their home county, because Tolliver feels the need to "test the waters" by stopping at a honky-tonk (that's a rural roadside bar, in case you haint heard) to have a quick drink with his wife. After a weird incident involving a mentally handicapped peeping Tom, Tolliver and his wife end up in a sticky (pun intended) situation with the local Sheriff. The end.

I don't know....maybe in some quarters this qualifies as good quality fictional entertainment, but not here. Character development? Very little. Plot? Mmmmm...there's more chicken meat in a McNugget than there is "plot" in this story. Suspense? Maybe a little bit...but...there's also suspense when you turn on the shower every morning (is water going to come out??? Yep). Even the attempts at local texture seemed a bit forced, which is surprising, because it seems like rural Kentucky is Offutt's material. He's from there and all...yada-yada-yada. Having spent some time in Kentucky myself, I appreciated the mentions of Ale-8-One, a Sprite/7up-like soda-pop made (and probably only drunk) in Kentucky, and bourbon and branch...but hell, anyone who's spent an afternoon in the Bluegrass state and has a good pair of ears could do that.

Listen, I'm mature enough not to simply write-off an author after reading a single, bad, sub-1,000 word story. Even in spite of this lackluster piece of writing, I still might go to the library and see if I can find any of Offutt's books. The library, mind you....not the bookstore.





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Holiday Q&A, Volume 1

These questions come to us from Grace. Thanks for sending your questions!! Answers below:
What is the most thrilling mystery you have read and/or watched?
The Eiger Sanction (book and film) by Trevanian is what's coming to mind. International espionage. Mountain-climbing assassins. Evil albino masterminds. Sex. Not a bad combination. Warning, this is completely a "guy" movie, and the film (feat. Clint Eastwood) is priceless 70s action movie cheese. But in case that's your thing...
What's the deal with Narcos?
Narcos is a Netflix show about the rise and fall (but mostly the fall) of Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Thus far there are two seasons of 10 episodes each. RIYL: The film Blow, starring Johnny Depp; the book Zombie City, by Thomas Katz; the movie Goodfellas; true crime; anything involving the drug trade. My brief review: Season 1 started out a bit slow and I know a bunch of people who never made it past the first few episodes. Some of the acting is a…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…