Bring Me Your Saddest Arizona
To be the winner of the 2003 John Simmons Short Fiction Award given by the University of Iowa, this is a remarkably ordinary collection of stories. Still one more graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Ryan Harty has neither a distinctive voice nor a compelling vision that would transform his shallow people into meaningful and memorable fictional characters.
In two coming-of-age stories, a first-person narrator tells about ostensible life-changing experiences with an older brother. In “Crossroads,” the brother takes the narrator to a Led Zeppelin concert where he teaches him how to shotgun a can of beer, spit tobacco juice, and pick up a young married woman for impromptu sex. In “What Can I Tell You About My Brother?” the narrator’s older brother kills someone’s German Shepherd with a Phillips screwdriver because the guy stole his girl. Perhaps the young narrator in these stories talks much the way someone of his age, education, and social class might actually talk, but that’s hardly enough to make the reader care about him.
Harty does better when he shifts to a third-person point of view, as he does in “Sarah at the Palace,” about a man who comes to Las Vegas to clear out his sister’s apartment after her death, for which he feels some guilt, and “Don’t Call It Christmas,” in which an assistant teacher in San Francisco gets involved with a homeless girl he supposedly is trying to help, but with whom he really wants to have sex. Although these men are hardly more sympathetic than Harty’s adolescent boys trying to come of age, at least they don’t stumble through telling their own stories.
One of the most fascinating pieces in the collection is a seemingly sci-fi story about a futuristic mechanical boy who begins to break down mentally. Through the father’s powerful love, Harty makes the mechanical boy come alive—something he is not able to do in most of the other stories.