The Name of the Nearest River
by Alex Taylor
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From "A Lakeside Penitence"
"We'll noodles us a fish," sniveled Doug, the eldest. His face was covered with a mossy beard and he smelled of Brut cologne. "A big one. Cut it up and bring it to the dinner. They can't fault us none for that. And it's what Aunt Vergie would have wanted."
His brother Lum, bald with a bar-code tattooed on the back of his neck, strung his belt around his longjohns and hitched a stringer of Old Milwaukee to it. The cans bobbed in the water. They made a chimey jingle. It was nice. Such things might save a drowning man.
And both brothers were in league against drowning. It was what frightened them most. But they were also in league against being pussies and so would say none of this.
"This is all fine and good," said Lum, wading out, "but we got to remember to go bury Aunt Vergie. We got to try and be on time for once."
Doug waved his concern away, his bare feet easing into the cool bottom mud. "We will, we will. It ain't nothing to wad your Tampax over."
Out at the highway they caught fiddlers for an hour or so, small trivial fish of much bone. They threw these back. Their knuckles were bloodied and they were chin-deep in the tarn, their breath blowing up little squalls. Doug had been finned through the palm and the wound bled like stigmata.
"Well shit," he said, suckling his hand. "I don't hardly believe there's a good fish out here today." His tears had gone away and he seemed freshly saved from a deep impenetrable sorrow. The sight of blood was wont to bring such a reaction from him. It had done so in past times. "We should just go on," he said. "We may be late to the funeral like you said."
Lum looked out over the lake. A jet-ski was scooting over the water, its wake rising white and sudsy. It was piloted by a man in a neon-green life jacket. A red-headed girl rode at his back, the long flame of her hair reaching out behind her like afterburn.
"No. There ain't no good fish out this way. But I don't think we want to run off just yet," said Lum. "Yonder goes some cooch."
Doug looked up. "Where'd they come from?"
"I don't know," said Lum.
Doug, lonely with age, a man who had thrown dog-faced women from his sheets as simply as emptying bed pans, opened a beer and guzzled. "Maybe we should holler them over here," he said. "Get something going."
"Won't be nothing but trouble," said Lum.
"Ain't that all we ever known?"
"Alex Taylor is a reader's dream, a young writer who writes like he's been around forever, who knows the people of his world in and out, through and through, can trace the line between good and evil so exactly it's a kind of miracle on the page. For him, Kentucky is home and he'll bring it home to you in stories so vivid and lovely and funny you'll feel like a native when you put the book down. And if Kentucky wasn't already on the map, he'd put it there."
"Alex Taylor is a fresh new voice, not just in Kentucky but in American Literature. His precise observations, deep insights, and confident prose lift his fiction to a soaring height. The characters are real people enduring real dilemmas: resourceful, hopeful, and compassionate. Taylor writes with generosity and understanding of rural and small town life."
"These gritty stories from the rough side of the south show Taylor's talent and promise, and their characters are evoked in language touched with poetry and grace."
“Alex Taylor's The Name of the Nearest River offers the best view of the territory since Chris Offutt's Kentucky Straight. The stories are just so knowing, the characters both pure and tainted, the prose as beautiful and accurate as a shot to the heart.”
–David Galef, author of Flesh and Turning Japanese