February 16, 2011

Kevin Canty’s Everything

Oh my gosh. I’ve had Kevin Canty’s Everything setting on my bookshelf for a long time, and I picked it up last night. Wow. It immediately drew me in. It’s got both that Western sparity that I love (a la Hemingway and McCarthy and Tom McGuane) but it’s also lush in interiority and subtle keen-eyed real-to-life detail and humanity. And the dialog is spot on, spot on. It’s unornamented but barbed as hell. Kevin, you rock! Here’s the beginning, for your reading pleasure.

The fifth of July, they went down to the river, RL and June, sat on the rocks with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red and talked about Taylor. The fifth of July was Taylor's birthday and they did this every year. He would have been fifty. RL had been his boyhood friend and June was married to him. He'd been dead eleven years.

This side channel used to be one of Taylor's favorite fishing spots, but five or six years before, a beer distributor from Sacramento had built a twenty-room log home right on the bank and then drove a Cat D6 into the river and piled up a wing dam, to keep his house from falling into the drink. This pushed all the current out of the side channel and into the main river. A few last big fish lurked down deep in the channel but mainly it was suckers. Still, it was a pretty spot to sit on a long evening, the shade of the tall cottonwoods slowly deepening into green water. A pretty spot if you turned away from the log palazzo. They sat on the rocks and watched the water trickle by, the cool splash of river water over gravel.

I wish . . . said June.

You wish for what? RL asked her.

I wish I had a cigarette, she said, and laughed. June smoked exactly one day a year, and this was the day. RL got one out, gave it to her, lit it. He was smoking a cigar himself. He had bought the pack specially for her. The two of them stared at the smoke as it curled through the still air. RL could just barely hear the trucks passing on the interstate, a mile away. The sound always made him lonely, the thought of all that highway, all that American night out there.

These anniversaries, said June. They keep sneaking up on me. He's been gone, now, longer than I ever knew him.

That's not right.

No, I did the math last night. He was twenty-eight when I met him. twenty-eight to thirty-nine, thirty-nine to fifty. It doesn't seem like that long but it is.

Long time gone, said RL. I still, sometimes — I feel like I'm going to walk around a corner and see him on the sidewalk. You know, just sitting around the house, and I think, maybe I'll give Taylor a call, see if he wants to go grab a beer. Down at the Mo Club. See if I can borrow his pickup.

It's not like that for me, said June. Not anymore.

She reached for the square bottle of whiskey and took a demure pull on it. RL admired the workings of her throat, the little hollow at the base of her neck, her fine collarbone. She was younger than Taylor and him and still quite a good-looking girl.

I've been going to church again lately, she said.

Get the hell out of here.

I'm not kidding. Sunday morning ten o'clock.

Which one?

June blushed lightly. She was one of those transparent blondes where every feeling showed on her skin, pale or passionate. In tears she turned a blotchy red. RL had seen her in tears, not often.

I'm going to the Catholic one, said June. Weird, I know. A couple of the girls from work got me going there.

They got you all signed up? Human sacrifice in the basement and everything?

I think they quit doing that.

That's not what I hear.

It's safe to say that you would hate it, June said. I mean, you would hate even the good parts, which are all about doing good things and being nice to people in Central America and so on. They're so [expletive] earnest! But, you know, that's what I like about them.

You've always had an earnest streak.

And you've always been a cynical bastard.

With a heart as big as the great outdoors, RL said. That's me.

No, June said. That's somebody else.

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