Stories are inevitable. You do the living, and stories will happen….they become the fabric that holds a place together, the beating heart of its people.
These are a few golden nuggets from the prologue of Glenn McCarty’s Junction Tales, a collection of short stories from the world of Tumbleweed Thompson. If you’ve read his epic novel that tells the tale of Tumbleweed’s misadventured summer, you’ll find a few familiar characters and threads in here. If you haven’t, there is still much to enjoy, but you’re missing out on a deeper experience, which follows the young boys Eugene Appleton and Tumbleweed Thompson himself on a rip-roaring adventure in an 1876 frontier town.
The prologue for Junction Tales is written in the voice of Eugene as an adult, reflecting on the tall tales, legends, and history that made up his youth. It reminds me of Richard Dreyfuss’ character in the movie Stand By Me, writing out his memoirs of an unforgettable summer from his past. It sets the stage well, and gives us a compass for the stories to come.
There are five stories all together, and in them we encounter a mysterious Man in Black who guards a silver mine, a mysterious herd of miracle cows, deadly mosquitos, a new schoolteacher contending with a group of young pranksters, and a yarn from the chronicles of Eugene’s literary hero, the legendary Dead-Eye Dan himself.
McCarty’s prose in his storytelling twangs off the page like a well-tuned banjo. No matter which narrator is spinning the tale, the words give you that feeling of characters that have truly lived the story and want to take you right into the heart of it. What I love most about how these stories are crafted is the air of suspense that builds steadily towards their conclusions.
The best tales in this collection are the ones that also inhabit a sense of the truly mysterious, of unanswered questions and loose threads that linger out of sight when the story ends. Whether it be the Man in Black or a storm that brings in a herd of miracle cows, you are left half-expecting Rod Serling to emerge from a corner and remind us we are living in the Twilight Zone, a universe built on questions. Is this fact or fiction? History or legend? Clearly there are more things in heaven and earth dreamt of in our philosophy. The storytelling mantra of Pixar’s Andrew Stanton, “give them 2 + 2, but not 4” is adhered to with a playful whimsy in McCarty’s world, and readers are rewarded in spades because of it. If I had to pick a favorite tale from the whole book, it would have to be The Night the Mosquitos Sang, not only because of its quirky characters and suspenseful story, but because of the bizarre spooky corners it dares to tread…plus the title alone is brilliant.
Although McCarty’s words paint plenty of pictures themselves, each story is given a visual anchor in the wonderful illustrations by Joe Sutphin. His drawings are paradoxically soft and rough at the same time, rustic and timeless, in the same vein as the best work by the likes of Robert McCloskey, Garth Williams, Bill Peet, and Norman Rockwell. He draws his characters with warmth and integrity, and their classic style fits well with McCarty’s yarn-spinning.
If you’re looking for good old-fashioned storytelling with plenty of fun, adventure, and mystery, you’ll find it here in Junction Tales.