The Goat Fish and the Lover’s Knot

Sharon Harrigan in The Nervous Breakdown:

BookJack Driscoll is one of the most respected short story writers working today. He is not the most famous, but he is widely admired, especially among writers, as a craftsman whose work serves as a model for other writers to follow. The appeal is clear—his enormous compassion for his flawed characters; his gift for shining the spotlight on the kind of people and places that are so often overlooked both in literature and life; and his distinctive voice, which nimbly tightropes between high and low, vernacular and lyrical, comic and wise. His characters say things like “Christ on a bike” and “piss in one hand and wish in another and see which one fills first.” But their insights and vocabulary can also fly to great heights. “The idea of a million pilgrims desperate to put a knee down in this nothing town suddenly adjacent to God and heaven confounds even the dreamer in me,” says one of the book’s precociously eloquent adolescents.

In The Goat Fish and the Lover’s Knot, Driscoll’s big-hearted ability to make us love the troubled screw-ups he creates is on fine display. He finds the humanity in petty criminals, sarcastic teenage kleptomaniacs, and desperate divorcees. He makes us root for boys with names like Priest or Darwin or girls called Trinity or Novella—often living with one parent, while the other languishes in jail. Sometimes it’s the mother’s boyfriend or the protagonist who finds herself on the wrong side of the law, but the focus of the story is on their chances to claw themselves out of their “nowhere” lives, not repeat their parents’ mistakes, and find their better selves. They long to “shit-can” their “spirit-killing, grind-it-out jobs” or they dream of seeing the Himalayas. We feel their cramped circumstances and cheer them on as they sneak peeks of a bigger world beyond their “prefab repos” and double shifts at the Honcho or Twisted Antlers. Driscoll makes us care for the waitresses and warehouse workers, those scarred by fire or bad luck or made murderous by rejected small business loans, the mother who spends so much time in the water she is “part reptile,” the father who cut short his potential major league baseball career by accidentally guillotining his arm during a science project, or the former boxer scheming to rescue (or kidnap?) his ex-girlfriend’s son. His characters are so smart and reflective that we empathize with them, even when they’re engaged in fist fights, pot growing, or breaking and entering.

More here.