Review of Stephen G. Eoannou’s Muscle Cars, SFP, 2015.

Muscle CarsWith its lean, elegant prose and intense sense of place, Stephen G. Eoannou’s Muscle Cars is more than a collection of beautifully-written stories. It’s a deep dive into the psyche of the American male. In the title story, “Muscle Cars,” the protagonist’s loss of a beloved brother to the Iraq war looks more like PTSD by proxy than ordinary grief as he becomes estranged from his family through an obsession with bodybuilding and the high-octane auto of his stoner neighbor. “Mementos” explores the death of a parent and the jarring effects of discovering a hidden secret, and “The Girl in the Window” deals with fantasy and secret desire. A neighborhood myth is a powerful force in the life of a young boy in “The Wolf Boy of Forest Lawn,” and a man and his aging father confront the ruins of a time gone by in the rustbelt of the northeast. In “Ohio Street” a father fears the mistakes of his own youth are being replayed before his eyes by his son. A man’s guilt over his failure to fulfill his wife’s dreams is  studied in “The Corner of Walnut and Vine.”

The collection takes a darker turn with the next three stories. “Culling” has an aging uncle and his young nephew approaching the bleak future of deteriorating neighborhoods, dwindling employment prospects, and the pesky invasion of Canadian geese. The nephew thinks about escaping, while the uncle considers violence. The teenaged protagonist in “Slip Kid” finds that his friends have implicated him in the murder of a beloved priest, a situation that threatens disgrace upon his family. “A Person of Interest” demonstrates how easy it is for a good man to become inflamed by fear and prejudice.

Of all the fantastic stories in this collection, I have two favorites—“The Luckiest Man in the World,” dealing with economic desperation, the bonding power of sports and family loyalty; and “Swimming Naked” where a young boy is faced with bullying and the awful conforming power of a peer group.  Sandwiched between these stories are: “The Aerialist,” involving betrayal, “Games,” another story of sports and violence, and “Stealing Ted Williams’ Head,” where a couple of guys come to believe they can salvage all of their lost and crazy dreams in one big score—stealing Ted Williams’ frozen head and burying it in the outfield of  Fenway Park (Okay. This is one of my favorites too).

The last two stories have a feel-good vibe to them. In “Winter Night, 1994” two old adversaries meet on a fateful night. The protagonist in “Auld Lang Syne” must weigh his desire to keep sudden, unearned wealth against his and his wife’s ethics.

All I can say in conclusion is that I was particularly wild about three of the stories, and I damn sure wish that I had written  all of them.