Friday, September 26, 2008

Aunt Agatha's Bookshop Review

Robin Agnew and her husband Jamie own Aunt Agatha's, a bookstore in Ann Arbor that is a favorite among crime fiction and mystery lovers. While my book isn't necessarily full of mysteries (except how it ever got published! HEY-O!), there's enough Michigan in it for her to have been kind enough to give it consideration. Here's what she said:

Eight Dogs Named Jack, Joe Borri, Momentum Books, $24.95.

Joe Borri is new to writing — or published writing, anyway, I doubt he's new to writing — he's instead long worked as an artist. His collection of short stories, Eight Dogs Named Jack, are illustrated as well as written by him. The black and white illustrations look very much like woodcuts, but I encourage you to ask him the actual process, which he explained to me and which, like the man himself, is both original and unique. The stories are set either in urban Detroit or in the wilds of Michigan, and all seem to include some kind of life defining moment for the character as well as a real richness of tone, atmosphere and character detail. These are very Italian stories, and their very specificness lends them an extra air of originality.
The opening story, "Honest John", is set in the Detroit of 1968, and told from the point of view of a seven year old boy, who gives the nickname "Honest John" to his uncle, a nickname that, to judge by his family's reaction, is an entirely inappropriate one. Borri doesn't deviate from the understanding of events that a seven year old would have, so while uncle John's lack of honesty may have been apparent to an adult, to a child it's vague. What isn't vague are the details of the Italian neighborhood in Detroit where Richie lives, and the catholic school he attends, with this classic description of the nun who is his teacher: "The nun was an evil, broad-shouldered woman just shy of six feet with ringlets of oily, jet-black hair. She looked like a man in a habit..." The rest of the story is equally vivid.

The title story, "Eight Dogs Named Jack", is just as distinct, though it's told not from a child's point of view, and rather than being set in Detroit, it's set in the thumb. Two friends, Tom and Mike, take Tom's new dog, Duke, out for his first attempt at hunting. Mike, who has eight dogs named Jack (it's a perfectly good name, after all), razzes Tom about naming his dog after Duke Ellington. By the end of the story, both men and the dog have come through a life changing event of sorts for all three. It will stay with you after you finish it. While these aren't mystery stories, they are terrific and memorable stories, and the Michigan setting couldn't be more vivid.