A tie-in to the new documentary, Roy's World, directed by Rob Christopher narrated by Lili Taylor, Matt Dillon and Willem Dafoe, these stories comprise one of Barry Gifford's most enduring works, his homage to the gritty Chicago landscape of his youth
Barry Gifford has been writing the story of America in acclaimed novel after acclaimed novel for the last half-century. At the same time, he's been writing short stories, his "Roy stories," that show America from a different vantage point, a certain mix of innocence and worldliness. Reminiscent of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Ernest Hemingway's Nick Adams stories, Gifford's Roy stories amount to the coming-of-age novel he never wrote, and are one of his most important literary achievements--time-pieces that preserve the lost worlds of 1950s Chicago and the American South, the landscape of postwar America seen through the lens of a boy's steady gaze.
The twists and tragedies of the adult world seem to float by like curious flotsam, like the show girls from the burlesque house next door to Roy's father's pharmacy who stop by when they need a little help, or Roy's mom and the husbands she weds and then sheds after Roy's Jewish mobster father's early death. Life throws Roy more than the usual curves, but his intelligence and curiosity shape them into something unforeseen, while Roy's complete lack of self-pity allow the stories to seem to tell themselves.
Gifford (the Sailor and Luna series) collects his stories and novellas about a boy named Roy and his seedy, charming world for a staggering omnibus that includes 18 new stories and sweeps back to the 1973 collection A Boy's Novel. Though he occasionally verges on adolescence, Roy is mainly portrayed as five to seven years old, picking up life lessons from showgirls, gamblers, gangsters, and hardscrabble streets , but still occasionally including a tender game of baseball, as in "The Winner." Roy starts out life in Florida, where, as seen in "A Good Man to Know," his father is involved in organized crime. Roy's mother, after his parents' divorce when Roy is eight, brings one "rat" after another into their lives, so much so that in "Unspoken," Roy tries to arrange to live with a neighbor. In "Memories of a Sinking Ship," Roy's mom takes them both to live in Chicago. Here, the collection truly sings, where a man looks like a "Maxwell Street organ-grinder without the organ or the monkey," and some stories take on the lurid and matter-of-fact tone of a newspaper crime report, such as "Sick," in which a dead body is discovered on a lakeside beach. The stories highlight Gifford's range of styles and registers, even if the book doesn't quite cohere into a larger narrative. Taken story by story, this collection is full of gems.