Review: The Hook and the Haymaker
Jared Yates Sexton
Fiction | Short Stories
5 ½” x 8 ½” perfect-bound trade paperback
Review copy: PDF ARC
Split Lip Press
Review originally published on 2/9/15
As I worked through Jared Sexton’s new short story collection, The Hook and the Haymaker, I was reminded of the satisfaction I’d get from listening to a new album and discovering that every song was good; my purchase hadn’t been the trap set by the catchy hook of a couple singles. This collection of twenty-three stories, averaging about eight pages each, is the short-story equivalent of rock ’n’ roll’s Exile on Main Street.
The main characters are usually men already in exile or about to find out what that kind of life means. They’re often lovable losers, and other times, they’re just losers. They’re the kind of men who will ask a blind woman if she thinks she will ever get tired of being blind. They’re the kind of men who would insist evaluating a question like that requires the proper context. They’re the kind of guy you think is finally coming around and is concerned about his kid’s welfare, only to find his real concern is the mental damage he thinks his wife will inflict, even though she’s the one taking care of the kid rather than screwing around and getting drunk.
These women don’t take these men sitting down. They’re often the ones given the most active resolution in the stories:
At first Trudy looked confused, but soon she sprung into action. She lit into the walls and tore the paper with her fingernails until it was hanging in threads and her nails were bleeding. Next she tossed her apron and the pots and pans onto the floor. (from “Punch for Punch,” p. 21)
The stories waste no time landing the first punch:
Listen here, Les said into the phone, if I ever find out who this is I’m going to kick your head in. (from “It Comes with the Territory,” p. 46)
My old Granddad was the meanest sonuvabitch in Greene County, Indiana, and anybody tells you different doesn’t know their dick from a hole in the ground. (from “Bear Fight,” p. 80)
Within opening lines like these, I was pulled into the stories’ world and was eager to find out how the round would end. Some endings were more abrupt and left more open than others, but many of them landed at least one last haymaker.
It’s fun to try to pick a favorite. I think mine would be either “Volcano,” with its extremely difficult scenario a father has to face, or “Punch By Punch,” which has this line that captures the essence of the males in this collection through one concise sentence:
When a man asks you to break his nose you don’t have much choice in the matter. (p. 19)
I read this on an advanced review copy PDF, but I’m going to have to buy the paperback version, read it again, and put it on the shelf where it belongs: between my copy of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son and Raymond Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? Sexton’s males aren’t into chaos quite as much as Johnson’s famous Fuckhead, but they’re still pretty fucked up themselves. They could’ve all hung out at the same bar, for sure. Likewise, Sexton’s couples would’ve found home sweet home with the Carver couples as they drank just as much, and might have been even more dysfunctional. What I am sure of, is they were all from the hands of a great writer.