Sunday, April 25, 2010

Refresh, Refresh by Benjamin Percy

There's a cursor arrow under the title on the inside of the book.  Right off it made me think, Of course! The title refers to surfing the web.  Something hip and modern.  But the author is from Tumalo, a very tiny and absolutely unhip little Central Oregon town just outside of which we camped for a week last summer.  I rode my bike every morning on the roads surrounding and passing through it. Logging about a hundred miles or so, I have a pretty good feel for the lay of the land around there.
Ultimately as I sat down to finally read the first story of the same title as the book, I really didn't know what to expect other than something good.  Why good?  It was recommended to me by someone I trust and beyond that it just had that aura about it.

There is indeed a reference to refreshing a web page in the story, however the urgency is much more visceral than trying to get the latest sports score or Facebook updates.  The anxious impatience with technology is but a tiny thing awash in the wake of the raw, desperate violence and pain that drives the story's plot.
Notwithstanding its angry savagery, the sweet humanity of the main character comes through with masterful subtlety without a trace of sentimentality.  Perhaps its the sparse but lyric quality of the prose.  It's a pleasure to read Percy.  And culturally insightful as well –  it's loud and clear why volunteers walk into armed forces recruiting offices in small, lonely towns to sign up in spite of the bleakness of a sure trip to the endless fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I've read but the first of Percy's collection of eleven stories in Refresh, Refresh.  I went back for another read of the first before proceeding further.  If the dense pathos continues in the rest of the stories, as I suspect it will, this book will secure its place on my nightstand for several weeks of patient and gratifying reading.

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