Niagara Falls, the “honeymoon capital of the world,” has a dark side. In Black Rabbit, the short-fiction debut by Salvatore Difalco (who lives there), that tourist haven is populated by rapists, junkie moms, and violent crackheads.
Full of harsh subject matter and narrated in a terse narrative voice, the stories have their clearest antecedents in the works of Raymond Chandler and Hubert Selby, Jr. Through his characters’ foibles, Difalco reflects upon themes of alienation and hope – with varying degrees of success.
The title story is a surreal coming-of-age tale. At a funeral, a young boy watches his uncle slaughter a rabbit, and is urged to lick the gushing blood. Unpredictable narrative twists and a supernatural air combine to disorienting, compelling effect.
Not all of the 21 stories collected here match the promise of this spellbinding opener. “The House” explores tensions between two coke-snorting vandals – one who destroys property for sport, the other an arsonist seeking spiritual enlightenment through a lit matchstick. The story starts well, but relies too heavily on characters explaining their feelings to the reader.
Other stories suffer a similar tendency toward direct explication, rather than careful revelation, of mood and theme. In “Pink,” a middle-aged gay assassin is confronted by a flirty teen girl. It’s a fascinating choice of protagonist, but by the end, precious little is exposed about his motivations or what they might reveal about the human condition.
Difalco is at his strongest when writing about relationships – focusing upon the inherent drama of tight-knit Italian families, couples on the rocks, or even corpulent characters’ relationships to food and their own bodies. Let’s hope he continues to mine the strange lives of his particular brand of disenfranchised heroes. In all that roughness, there are diamonds.