Neal Barrett, Jr., Perpetuity Blues and Other Stories (Golden Gryphon 0-9655901-4-3, $21.95, 256pp, hc) February 2000. Cover by Ron Walotsky.
Barrett's second collection gathers stories originally published during the Neal Barrett renaissance of the late '80s and early '90s, when his oddball brew of weird wired Texas poetry appeared in most of the major genre magazines and he was suddenly the hot writer.
The first thing you notice is the range and diversity of Barrett's short fiction. The book opens with "Perpetuity Blues," about Maggie McKenna from Marble Creek, Texas—a young orphaned playwright who finds love and auctorial success with the help of a blue-skinned alien stranded on Earth. It's a weird, fun, touching story. In "Stairs," an anonymous young woman ekes out a mouselike living on the 320,000th floor of a giant, anonymous skyscraper, while life goes on outside her door on the stairs. Barrett manages to create a world that is brooding, ominous, and somehow reminiscent of oddball French movie classic Delicatessen. The highlight, though, is "Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus," the book's endpiece, a gonzo tale of a wild fun gal, a seven-foot-tall gun-toting possum, gangster accountants, and VR sex. It's dark, humorous, unbelievable, and utterly convincing.
And there are others: in "Diner" the workers at the Shining Wealth of the Sea Joyous Cooperative attempt to celebrate the Fourth of July in a Communist Chinese America; in "Sallie C" Sheriff Pat Garrett meets Erwin Rommel and the Wright brothers; in "Cush" a deformed baby takes on the sins of the world to bring transcendence to a corner of Texas; in "Class of '61" a man tries to deal with the demands of mysterious aliens amongst the remnants of humanity on an invaded Earth; in "Trading Post" aliens illegally traffic in contraband Earth artworks; in "Winter on the Belle Fourche" a delicate Ms. Emily Dickinson adventures in the barbarous Indian territories; and in "Highbrow" a half-mile-high statue of Richard Nixon rises on the California coast.
While Perpetuity Blues is not entirely successful—three short excerpts from The Hereafter Gang sit oddly amongst the other work here—it is a delight. It's also an appropriate testimonial to Golden Gryphon editor Jim Turner (this was the last book he worked on) and to the talents of Barrett himself. It's the first "must buy" of the new millennium. Don't miss out.
—Jonathan Strahan, Locus, February 2000