15 Of The Best Short Stories By J.S. Kierland

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

This debut collection of stories by J.S. Kierland reveals the work of a remarkably gifted writer, one who can deal with both urban and rural themes with masterful ease.

The book (published by Underground Voices) is prefaced with a quote from an American folk song:

“Sometimes I live in the country,

Sometimes I live in the town.

Sometimes I have a great notion

To jump in the river and drown.”

The dichotomy and hint of desperation contained in this lyric are reflected all throughout 15 STORIES. Eight of the tales are set in the southwest; seven in cities of varying sizes; but at all times the people Kierland writes about are being squeezed hard by life, pushed to the outer edges by it.

In “Arizona Pie,” two brothers, Pearce and Chino, the offspring of a petty-criminal father, do battle with that dark legacy–and with each other–to find some kind of honor and justice in a bad, hostile world.

In “Robots,” an Air Force major who once proudly flew an F-17 in combat is now reduced to waging war in Afghanistan and Pakistan from a Nevada bunker. Sitting in this secret room thousands of miles from the battlefield, he must maneuver a bomb-laden drone

and position it to strike an enemy target. It was, as Kierland writes, “war and surveillance turned into a video game. The shamefulness and insanity of it are more than he can handle.

In “Fences,” another once-proud man, Brenny, the longtime foreman of a working ranch which has been turned into a corporate retreat, is obliged to hunt down a mountain lion so that “the executives’ families could feel safe.” Against his will, he sets off in pursuit of the big cat. In Kierland’s hands, this reluctant pursuit takes on ever-increasing tension and danger. Ultimately, this hunting story can stand shoulder to shoulder with anything Jack London, William Faulkner or Ernest Hemingway have written.

Many of the stories contained in this volume were first published in lively-arts.com