"Excommunicados" by Charles Haverty

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Charles Haverty has become conversant with the intricacies of a strict catechistic Catholic upbringing. And it seems to this lapsed Catholic that there’s only one way to be that familiar, that intimate with that particular mindset: you have to earn it. So one way to experience Excommunicados is as an in-depth review of such an upbringing, a series of war stories of the state of mind and its lasting effects.

And let me say at least near the outset that this year’s John Simmons Short Fiction Award winner is a highly deserving recipient. The stories plumb the depths of faith and lust, innocence and disillusion, and the ineradicable distances people place between each other. The stories which feature the conflict between one’s devout childhood and everyday adult realities focus on this schism, this disconnect between indoctrination and the world. This dichotomy lives at the center of these tales, generates much of the energy in them, and its principle gives its name to the collection.

There is the 6th-grade boy, agog at the beauty of his friend’s mother, and her irreverent attitude toward the parish pastor. There is the unscrupulous lawyer, who allows his client, who is his wife’s annoying brother, to go to prison wrongfully. A college freshman ends up after a long, harrowing day of driving at his high school buddy’s house, only to face a perplexing comeuppance. There are severe fractures in these stories, but there are also touching glimpses of redemption, unexpected shows of grace, that make these stories worth your while. They are uniformly excellent. I must have said that before about short fiction coming out of the University of Iowa, but I see no way around repeating myself.

Like all excellent short fiction, the events in these pages have a high clarity; motivation is clear and powerful and denouement brings that unsurpassed frisson of work exceedingly well wrought. The twelve entries on offer here show a master at work, and encountering such mastery is just a joy. Very highly recommended.
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