Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Baker's Dozen

A Baker’s Dozen

Book Review

By Eve Paludan http://www.evepaludan.com/

[Eve Paludan is a writer and editor. Eve Paludan is an editor of scholarly works by day and a novelist by night, occasionally doing freelance fiction editing on weekends. She is currently attending Arizona State University (online) and is working on earning a Web Developer Certificate from Northern Arizona University. She is also writing another romance novel. Eve has been married for 2.1 decades to a software developer/publisher, Ron Paludan, who is also a 3D (Poser and Google Sketch-Up) artist, as well as a webmaster of commercial sites.]

"A Baker's Dozen" Short Stories by Richard Noble is not only a treat, it is a feast for the mind, with some of the stories reminiscent of the O. Henry type of plot twists that have captivated readers for generations. Like the proverbial box of fancy chocolates, each story in this collection gives the reader a satisfying taste of a different flavor, and yet a cohesive theme of American blue-collar nostalgia makes a pretty box to contain these 13 delectable story treats.

A consummate storyteller, Richard Noble brings to life both civilized life -- with themes like marriage and running a business and adventures with drinking buddies and unions and such -- and uncivilized life, such as my favorite story in the collection: In "I'm Going Home," an itinerant fruit picker and pot dealer named Jon enjoys the freedom and economy of living in a national park but ponders the suspicious death of an alcoholic Jesus freak known as Pea-Coat. The trouble starts when Jon starts his own investigation of the assumed suicide. Wow, this story grabbed me and didn't let go, nor did it disappoint. Well done.

In "Cain & Bernard's," the author takes the long way to getting his own specialty butcher shop ready to open, which will require a plumber. His hilarious first-person retelling of his guy-centric path to his goals keeps getting diverted to a local bar where he has to drink with a plumber, seemingly for days, before they get down to business. Apparently, all of the regulars have long ago dated many of his aunts and his mom, which causes him some consternation and embarrassment. Oh, and existing on bar food -- mostly pickled eggs -- and alcohol is not a proper diet for a working man.

In "Love is Blind," Diane is a thirty-something spinster with a lovely apartment. She hasn't had a date for years. One night she gets a call from a war vet whose memories of them dancing at Arthur Murray as youngsters sustained him through the worst of times. What happens next left me with a lump in my throat. So poignant and romantic. A what-if that we all think about. Could someone from our past re-surface and...?

In "Gluckman's Poultry," the author goes wholesale meat-shopping on what are possibly the wrong side of the tracks and has a small adventure and a lesson in managing people at the bottom of the blue-collar totem pole.

In "Mussels in Marinara," more adventures in the butchery business ensue in South Miami with the author's friend, Lenny, after their meatpackers' union ditched them. This story is about crackers and beer, and Lenny's wife, who is simultaneously a princess and a shrew. There's something of an urban, blue-collar Shakespeare feel to this short story. Very enjoyable.

In "A Government Job," an ad for a nondescript job for a "coordinator" sends Richard, our hero, into unexplored territory as he bluffs his way through the job interview in some of the funniest b-s-ing I've ever read, as both interviewer and interviewee muddle through in a battle of wits!

"A Corny Christmas Story" presents the author as a little boy possessed of charm and surprising wit as he peddles his mother's hand-crocheted hats door to door, so that the family can buy a Christmas tree while Dad is off fighting a war on the other side of the world. I loved this! It should be a short film for a Christmas special. It's wistful, hopeful and amusing.

There are other great stories in this collection, and each has a sense of place and characters that are unforgettable. The author wrote some stories in first person, others are in third person with protagonists who are likely veiled characters of people he seemed to know well.

If you're looking for an entertaining short story collection with a sense of the past, Noble nails it with 13 gems that will make you laugh, cry, and swear at the adventures of a vivid and down-to-earth Americana.

Five stars for an entertaining short story collection of man stories that even a girl can love. -- Eve Paludan, author of Letters from David, a romance novel.

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