That Steve Weddle chose to present his debut full-length work, Country Hardball, as a novel-in-stories was truly ambitious. That he made it work is extremely gratifying, though not a surprise to anyone who’s followed Weddle’s writing over the years at places like the Do Some Damage blog and in collections such as Protectors, First Shift, Both Barrels, Off The Record, and D*cked.
The eighteen stories in Country Hardball all take place in a small town along the Louisiana/Arkansas line. Various characters appear throughout the collection, as bit players in some of the stories, taking center stage in others. The most common denominator is Roy Alison, a man whose life seemed destined to run off the rails almost from the jump.
After spending over ten years in and out of juvie, jail and halfway houses, Roy eventually makes his way back to his small hometown, ready to finally make something of his life. Only, the town was never much to begin with with, and the decade Roy’s been away has left the working-class community hit hard by the downturn in the economy. Still, like the other residents of the town, Roy is determined to make the best of things, and thus sets about putting one foot in front of the other the best he can.
Along the way, we see how the economic devastation has gutted the town, with both once proud people and places cut down and left in squalor. Rather than hitting readers over the head with heavy-handed tales of tearjerker poverty and brutal crime, however, Weddle instead comes at his subjects from unexpected angles, often using deceptively ordinary, everyday events to make his subtle, but ultimately stunningly powerful, commentary on the lives of the pour souls stuck in the position of making tough choices under even tougher circumstances.
Throughout it all, Weddle always keeps his eyes on the prize as he moves from one story to the next, fully understanding that it’s the people and the way they react and adapt that matters more than the actual events that are shaping them. And it’s that spare, unflinching approach to the human toll that makes Country Hardball such an impressive collection. The people who inhabit Weddle’s fictional—and yet all too real—town aren’t looking for pity, and Weddle honors their wishes by presenting them as neither saints nor sinners, merely folks caught in the switches of circumstance, circumstance many of them have been held hostage to for generations.
Country Hardball is a powerful collection, one which has justly garnered accolades from readers and critics alike (New York Times Sunday Book Review). Anyone already familiar with Weddle’s work knew he was capable of greatness, but for him to come out of the gate with a debut this strong leaves you wondering what he’ll throw over the plate for his next offering.
Country Hardball is available from Tyrus Books (ISBN: 978-1440570810).