Jeffery Renard Allen
Graywolf: 230 pp., $15 paper
THE FINAL story in Jeffery Renard Allen's new collection, "Holding Pattern," begins with a shower of pennies falling from the sky. The image is arresting; the penny rain "ringing against parked cars, breaking windshields and windows, bouncing off concrete, rolling into sewers, spinning like plates." Like any good dream, explanations are not forthcoming as amazed onlookers begin filling their pockets with coins, clawing them from the air, even opening their mouths until they can't stomach any more weight. Disbelief, clearly, is for amateurs.
But a book isn't read backward. The eye moves naturally from left to right and the words form a pattern, page after page. Likewise, the characters in Allen's 10 stories fight their way uphill in a bullish, often haphazard fashion, contending with all manner of obstacles, both familial and fantastical. In "The Green Apocalypse," a woman watches as the neighborhood thug who taunts her younger brother grows into a magnetic force of violence. Lee Christmas, the wealthy property owner of "Shimmy," sits in his parked BMW, remembering how he caught his first wife with the ghost of her dead boyfriend between her legs. In a downtown detention center, the ruggedly upbeat narrator of "Holding Pattern's" title story encounters an inmate with a miraculous yet pointedly useless power.