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Tight Like That

by Jim Christy

The 14 stories in Tight Like That recall the days when every little magazine ran short fiction – crisp, savvy entertainments slickly crafted to appeal to just about anybody, perfect to fill those idle few minutes in the waiting room or barber’s chair or on the bus. Veteran author Jim Christy’s writing is unabashedly plot-driven; nearly every story swivels unexpectedly into a last-page climax, a technique that owes more to the anecdotal yarns of O. Henry than to the probing Chekhovian style that inspires so many contemporary writers of literary fiction.

Although most of the stories are set in the very recent past, each shows Christy engaging stylistically with the bygone age of grittier, more mercenary story scribblers. The narrative passages are terse and propulsive, the dialogue as sharp as a smashed bottle, and the witty, hardcooked tone gleefully treads the thin line between throwback and anachronism. It’s not surprising that among Christy’s 20-odd previous books is biographical work on Charles Bukowski.

The stories are steeped in a strange deadpan yearning. The motley cast – hookers, drunks, tramps, killers, the unhinged, the dying – stumble the breadth of society’s margins, seeming likely at any moment to fall forgotten off its edges. And many of them do. Disappearances, deaths, and debilitations – both physical and emotional – abound, with plenty of sex and violence further enlivening the spectacle.

But for a collection so rooted in tumult, Tight Like That seems curiously inconsequential at times. The characters’ psychologies are given only cursory attention, often reducing them to types – the gangster instead of a gangster, actors filling roles in place of meaningful beings. The reader is too often left insensitive to their violences.

The stories work best when Christy shifts his focus from noirish down-and-outers to less deliberately visceral characters like, perhaps ironically, himself. In “Please, Baby,” the most moving of the bunch, Christy himself is the narrator, receiving letters from a dying female fan who wants him as a lover through her last days. Their subsequent affair is conveyed with an introspection and emotional honesty sadly absent from too much of this otherwise enjoyable collection.