Southern writer Tony Earley’s excellently written and highly readable Mr. Tall consists of six stories and a short novella. The stories have all been published separately in prestigious publications such as The New Yorker, The Southern Review and the Washington Post Magazine, and most take place in a fictional locale in rural Tennessee. The characters are a mix of country folks and city people, except for the novella, which contains a mix of real people and mythical characters. Mostly, the stories are about how men and women meet and how they live out their lives together.
The first story, “Haunted Castles of the Barrier Islands,” follows a couple who met working together on a small-town newspaper that they eventually come to own. He was fresh out of journalism school and she had learned from years on the job. She started calling him “college boy,” first as a term of derision, but later as one of endearment. When first on the job, he mooned around her till one day she said, “ ‘College Boy, what the hell’ and reached up under her tank top and unhooked her bra.” This line is typical of the no-frills approach the story takes as it describes what happens to their lives, their love, and their sex life as they grow old and their daughter moves away.
In “Just Married,” Hardy and Evelyn have actually been married for 48 years. Evelyn is ill, and Hardy, who fought in WWII, is suffering from PTSD, though the term is not used. Hardy recalls the way he couldn’t hold down a job or sleep inside a house when he returned from the war, and Evelyn “loved him back into the shape of himself.” This beautiful line is typical of Earley’s prose, which is creatively wrought and perceptive—this is a collection not to be missed.