Monday's Meal is a busy collection of twenty-one stories. A handful of these include recurring characters, enhancing the sense throughout the book that Edgerton is writing about a community rather than simply a series of individuals. The character with whom we become best acquainted is Evan, a.k.a. Pete: "Now Pete's not my real name, it's my middle name. Peter, actually. But when your first name's Evan, and you hang out where I do, you want to use something else." Evan/Pete hangs out in the seedier precincts of New Orleans. In "I Shoulda Seen a Credit Arranger" and "Ten Cents a Dance," he gets involved in, respectively, a botched kidnapping and the pursuit of an uninterested prostitute. His ex-wife, the blueblood narrator of "Princess," finds it horrific how he now "hangs out with low-lifes, even street people. God!" Evan/Pete, though, is a street-wise, philosophizing, get-by-as-best-you-can kind of guy who moves through a part of New Orleans never viewed from the tour bus.
Evan/Pete is an amusing character, yet not all of Edgerton's down-and -outers are. "The Jazz Player" portrays an angry young man desperate to release "that intense, throbbing, terrible, last blast of pent-up fury and frustration and guilt and anguish and loss and death." In "The Mockingbird Cafe," one of the strongest stories here for its concision, a black prison escapee endures a white cop's tormenting of him and then sullenly walks away. In "Rubber Band," a kid just released from the reformatory, made cynical and weary of the world, anticipates his own snapping point. While Edgerton can sketch a city hardship scene comparable to Joseph Mitchell's--and several of the stories have the casualness of familiar essays about them--Edgerton establishes the kind of convincing, and wrenching, interiority with his characters achieved by only the most adept fiction writers.
Edgerton does not write exclusively about people living on society's fringe. Sometimes his characters--as in "The Last Fan," about a dullard husband's violent turn, or "Voodoo Love," about a yuppie couple's falling out--are simply headed in that direction. To his credit, Edgerton aims for range in his characters. While suspicion of identity interlopers across ethnic and gender lines is often justified, the smart writer adopts various personae in order to strive for empathy and understanding, rather than appropriation. "My Idea of a Right Thing" exemplifies this purpose in its striking account of a woman's struggle with alcoholism and the (often) predominantly male world of Alcoholics Anonymous. Less dramatic, though no less vivid, "Telemarketing" is the story of a woman dealing with an emotionally distant husband and a pair of needy neighbors as she runs the cafe she owns and longs to have a child.
Even Edgerton's most harrowing stories, such as "Hard Times," about the deadly abandonment of a woman and her children, read effortlessly. The prose throughout is vibrant and precise. At times, the author's sharp ear for colloquial mannerisms tends to turn his speakers into Runyonesque caricatures, as when the high-brow belle in "Princess" exclaims indignantly, "Why, I'd just die!" On the other hand, such dialect adds as much local color as references to the Camellia Cafe or beignets. A case in point: after protesting how he was "bum-rapped on that litigious," the narrator of "Dream Flyer" gripes about the "effrippery" of his jailers for putting him in the same cell with an "orignal-diginal" like the Dream Flyer, who's scheduled to be "exterminated for something he didn't do." In fiction as in life, I suppose, better too much of a good thing than not enough.
Once again, the University of North Texas Press deserves high praise for its commitment to publishing superb contemporary fiction. Leslie H. Edgerton is a writer one should continue to seek out in the literary magazines and on the new-releases shelf.
It's not the kind of book to read all at once. Each story makes you stop and think. They kind of catch a mood or emotion that is hard to define, and some have really stayed with me, in particular, "Hard Times". I highly recommend the collection.
Looking forward to reading his novels.
And you can add Les Edgerton to that list.
Monday's Meal by Leslie H Edgerton was published in 1997 and contains twenty-one tales of dirt realism. Sharp slices of American life. They're set in New Orleans and Texas. Sometimes in bars or behind bars. They're about café owners, hairdressers, nightclub musicians, prisoners, ex-cons, drifters and drinkers.
Monday's Meal opens and closes `Blue Skies' and `Monday's Meal, tales of strained relationships.' But the real meat is sandwiched between them. And Monday's Meal is particularly meaty.
Some favourites: `The Mockingbird Café' is the story of a man in a low-rent bar trying to mind his own business; `Hard Times' is bleak and scary and brilliantly written; `The Last Fan' is a tragic look at a shattered marriage; `My Idea Of A Nice Thing' is a touching and sad story of an alcoholic's crumbling life;'Telemarketing,' is the story of a young couple just trying to get by; `I Shoulda Seen a Credit Arranger,' is a Runyonesque crime story.
And there's plenty more to enjoy in Monday's Meal. Edgerton has a strong and sure grasp of the lives of people who are standing on the edge of a precipice.