There’s a big problem with the stories in Josh Green’s collection Dirtyville Rhapsodies (Dionysus Books, 244 pages). Each of them leaves you wanting more.
And there are 18 here, some set in Atlanta, where Green lives. These are pungent character sketches of memorable (sometimes endearingly, sometimes repulsively) people. People who are fleeing a bad past or recklessly sprinting toward a way worse future.
We get addicts. And a journalist posing as an addict. A retired guy, heading to Florida to start his post-career life with his wife, who runs into trouble with some prison breakers (or is it opportunity?). A Tennessee husband leaves his wife behind in hopes of starting over with a high-end Atlanta prostitute. A single father soothes his young son during a bumpy plane ride while they’re both coping with tremendous grief. An about-to-be father tries to play good husband at a breast-feeding workshop while he’s blotto from eating magic mushrooms. A guy on a bender drives around with a hooker who he realizes too late is jailbait. An aging tranny is smitten with a young street preacher. A guy whose wife has just died of a ridiculous infection wants to deal with the pain by getting drunk and making somebody at the bar punch his face in.
That leaves 10 more stories. They tend to focus on men in crisis, often of their own sloppy devising. But while Dirtyville Rhapsodies holds itself up as Exhibit A for that famous catch-all “rogues’ gallery,” Green writes about them with a tender snarkiness: he gets, and loves, these guys and their self-justifications.
And he writes like a dream.
There’s a justified swagger to his prose, thanks to the specific detail and the beleaguered jauntiness of his characters’ voices and viewpoints. He displays an authoritative ventriloquism as he explores these lives of men behaving badly, or trying not to.
A couple of small caveats: the cross-dressing protagonist of “The Dirty Dawn” tiptoes a little close to the “tragic queen” trope of old, tired depictions of gayness, and the delusional narrator of one story is so clearly delusional that there’s no need to title it “The Delusional Mister Necessary.” “Exultation,” about an older woman getting hooked on porn and sex toys after her husband’s death, is a little broad. But still funny.
Green covers a lot of ground with great brevity. The longest story here is 20 pages; most are much shorter. Which returns me to my main complaint. When each story ends, you turn the page expecting to read “Chapter Two.” Many of the tales are satisfyingly resolved, even while most are nicely ambiguous.
A lot of them read like jumping-off points, though; you leave one central character behind with regret, even as you’re interested to meet the next one. That’s what makes reading Rhapsodies an oddly exhilarating and exhausting experience. There’s a lot of start-and-stop.
It’s good to hear that Green is working on his first novel. You can’t help wishing that the engagingly effed-up folks he writes about so vividly here could be unlocked from their self-contained chambers and get a chance to collide with one another in a bigger plot. You just have to wonder whether Atlanta (should that be his chosen locale) is ready for the close-up.
What Atlanta landmarks appear in Dirtyville Rhapsodies? Find out here.