Only the Little Bone

For two generations, the Bryant family has administered an iron smelting works in Rosemary, Virginia, a poor industrial landscape peopled with begrimed employees and their ill-educated offspring. For their part, young Reed and Duncan Bryant enjoy the privileges of their father’s position; their parents are quiet, respectable products of farm country Methodist childhoods, although Grandfather Bryant drinks as much bourbon as he can sneak past his ill-tempered wife.

This is a world where table manners are a matter of anxiety if guests are present, and a time which encompasses the movies’ Roy Rogers, radio’s “Amos and Andy,” and television’s “Gunsmoke.” The blue 1957 Dodge has great fins; the dance band still plays “Mood Indigo” and “Woodchoppers Ball.”

The central consciousness of these stories is Reed Bryant. In the first story, Reed betrays a ten-year-old’s grasp of sexual motives that are readily apparent to the reader. Soon, Reed himself is party to like feelings, if he is as yet unaware of their ramifications.

David Huddle is a poet as well as a writer of fiction, and his prose is distinguished by a warm-hearted, unfazed affection for his ill-behaved characters. These stories reveal subtleties of feeling among apparently simple, working-class people: One finishes ONLY THE LITTLE BONE realizing that many additional stories might be plotted from the same characters, based on what has been implied in conversational asides and quietly layered in the exposition. In truth, neither Rosemary nor its population is simple.