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The Crying Jesus

by R.P. MacIntyre

A good short story doesn’t draw you in – it doesn’t have the time. You have to park your own world and enter the characters’ by the end of the first page. In this, his second collection, Rod MacIntyre nabs us in every first paragraph. Ten out of 11 stories are written in a first person (mostly male) young adult voice. In “Body Parts,” “The Crying Jesus,” and “Mona With the White Lips,” we meet three very different guys, all about 17, but sharing a delicious corkscrew humour reminiscent of creations by Brian Doyle or Tim Wynne-Jones. In the title story, the hero is from a deeply religious family – his sister is a Sister. They both chafe at each other’s morality. Nonetheless in a touching denouement, they lie to each other lovingly and almost convincingly.

In the next two stories, we enter the disturbing world of two young women. Cynthia in “Cursing Shane” is stalked by her maniacal ex-boyfriend. But who really is the victim? Anorexic Penny in “Eating With the Dead” is off on an epic odyssey with her mother’s ashes. Will they ever find a place to rest?

With the next five stories, MacIntyre ratchets up the discomfort level while skillfully blurring lines between sanity, madness, and morality. Jesus has reason to cry for the boys in these stories, each one struggling in his own testosterone purgatory. Who is burning down churches and why, we wonder, in “Sleeping in the Nude.” A dead spirit exacts revenge on a pitiful neo-Nazi in “Hitler’s Hands.” A young hockey player is cornered by the pressure of mythic team loyalty in “The Code.” These are stories of ugliness, beautifully written and illuminating.

MacIntyre doesn’t just captivate with violence and sophisticated dollops of madness. He’s worth reading if only to see how his characters stumble through some piercing insights. The hockey player laments, “People always tell you that quitting is easy….Quitting is as hard as starting, maybe harder.” A 17-year-old observing his aunt concludes, “Maybe still waters do run deep. But still waters also run extremely shallow.”

The question with a 16-plus target audience is: how adult is young adult? The Crying Jesus is a fine adult read for those of us who can face looking back. It’s an even finer young adult read for those who can face looking ahead.