Put a cowboy hat on a microphone and you have Gerald Haslam, whose short stories have recorded the landscapes, the working-class customs and, above all, the voices of the Bakersfield area for two decades now. Okies, Indians, blacks and Latinos; ranchers, roughnecks and a few who got education but could never get the dust and oil and tule fog out of their blood--Haslam lets them all sound off.
"That Constant Coyote" consists of six new stories and 19 that Haslam published as long ago as 1972. It reveals the surprising width of his range and traces his development.
Since Faulkner, no regional writer has had to be ashamed of being regional, but there are other pitfalls for prospectors on virgin literary ground. In his earlier stories, Haslam seems content to pick up the easy nuggets of local color without digging for deeper ore. Trying to show what is most characteristic of his area, he focuses on earlier times and simpler people--in short, on what has become marginal, there and everywhere else. Creating a tradition from scratch, he adopts old-fashioned models: the rural realism of Steinbeck, the tall tales of Twain.
It's interesting to see how Haslam has wrestled with all this, lost a few bouts with sentimentality and a few more with awkwardness, but kept on learning and improving. His yarns in dialect happen to be some of his most finished work, as well as his funniest. His realism has grown subtler without losing its straightforward appeal.