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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.


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