The black cover of this paperback shows a black and white head and shoulders shot of a man, part of a sinister face and an-almost neon yellow-green eye staring back, immediately setting the tone for the series of twenty-five short stories. The stories are delivered with a quick and sharp stab and provide glimpses into lives of people who are stuck, lost, plowed in. These quirky stories are snapshots into human emotions, thoughts, which reveal macabre darkness in human interaction and psyche, twists of fate and irreverent, tongue-in-cheek examinations of cultural icons.
Author Joe Del Priore’s assortment of stories and characters are at once touching, funny, peculiar, strangely normal and oddly quite engrossing. Del Priore’s collection of tightly-written stories reveals humor and a facetious cynicism that also manage to be heartfelt. Take for example, the over-the top character like the modern day pirate in the story entitled Pirate Blues. The story begins: “Sometimes I stand on the bow and stare at the sea, letting all my doubts vanish. Some see monotony; I see vastness, and at an unconscious level, I know I’ve chosen the right profession.” But, like other plowed-in characters, this pirate finds himself considering his options as he drowns in modern day bureaucratic rules like choreographing ship seizures, dealing with insured pirate plunder and the regulations on hostage taking.
Del Priore’s stories also feature everyday characters, like fathers trying to prove themselves to their sons, a single mother trying to make some money, or Ray, the retired postman in Rubber Band Man. Ray takes an unattended batch of mail and delivers it – just for old times. He finds himself transformed from the man “tired of watching old movies and network reruns on cable” to the person he once was “back into his rhythm, fingering mail, walking across shortcuts, his body bouncing more with each step.” Del Priore simply captures the joy that is lost and found in Ray’s life.
PLOWED IN reveals a diversity of writing styles, such as the detective noir style in Hardboiled, but most of the narrative is casual and spare, yet manages to cut to the core of human emotions, revealing loss, insecurity, envy, and desperation that has the potential for darker emotions to reveal themselves. The characters are rich in diversity as is the tone of each story, and the twist in the ending.
Some of the other stories included in are:
Plowed In: When a man finds that his car is plowed in at the supermarket parking lot, he has to find a way to persuade the store manager to dig it out for him.
Catch Shot: A flippant photographer-stalker finds himself being stalked and photographed.
Pellets: Angry neighbor Jimmy accuses the kids across the street of shooting pellets and rallies together all the other angry neighbors against them. Only, he discovers that they may not be the culprits shooting the pellets. When he goes to them to apologize, the truth hits him, and it hurts.
Stamped: Bint wants to send a letter to Ariana to ask her not to read the previous letter that he sent to her, but he’s going crazy because he can’t find a stamp.
Atonement: Ralph calls Carol AKA “Sheba” for some “purification”, but ends up giving the inexperienced S&M dominatrix advice and assistance.
Edifice Complex: A competition of sand proportions begins when two summer beach home neighbors try to outdo one another with the biggest sandcastle beach property.
Early Out: A man sits in his home, faced with all the possibilities now open to him now that his life is free of “job worries”. However, he finds his mind drifting to the good ol’ days.
The Word: In spite of low potassium and electrolytes, Jesus is trying to keep the peace among his discontented apostles – all thirteen of them – as they complain about their cramped living conditions and the disparity of electronic device usage, and lack of involvement by some of the apostles . But Jesus focuses them on more important matters, like the opening act for the Pope’s visit to Giants Stadium.
Though some readers will find certain stories more appealing and significant than others, some simply too obscure to relate to, there is a compulsion and curiosity to keep reading and glimpse into the mind of the next character that, even when they seem so bizarre, are oddly extremely normal.
PLOWED IN is an insightful and darkly humorous look at the human condition.
Also by the same author: Twilight People: Switchblade Stories
Reviewed by Maya Fleischmann for IndieReader.com 2012