Hero worship: A review of Let the Birds Drink in Peace
by Jenny Shank
Let the Birds Drink In Peace
Robert Garner McBrearty
152 pages, softcover: $14.99.
Conundrum Press, 2011.
In Colorado writer Robert Garner McBrearty's fresh and funny new story collection, Let the Birds Drink In Peace, a boy tells his mother he plans to do something great when he grows up. "Everybody feels like that when they're young," she replies. And yet, in several stories in this collection –– McBrearty's third –– regular guys do experience an instant of greatness as they save other people from danger –– and then struggle with the consequences.
In "The Acting Class," for example, a young man working at an Austin mental hospital rescues a patient from a bathroom assault, inspiring a coworker to fall in love with him. He invents a war-hero past to match his new girlfriend's romantic ideas, but as his lies unravel, so does their relationship.
In "The Helmeted Man," 43-year-old college student Alex tries to write about the time he rescued a woman from an armed mugger at an ATM, and ends up finally questioning how heroic he actually was. "For ten years, Alex had coasted on the big moment," McBrearty writes.
Fortunately for readers, McBrearty has not coasted on his own big moment, when he won the prestigious Sherwood Anderson Award in 2007. His stories remain as sharp and hilarious as ever, such as the "The Dishwasher," with its deadpan approach –– "I'm a dishwasher in a restaurant. I'm not trying to impress anybody. I'm not bragging. It's just what I do."
Other stories playfully eviscerate the myths of the Old West. In "Back in Town," a reformed rapscallion of the Deadwood sort promises his wife he won't go into town and carouse. "It has been a year now since I've given up drinking and whoring and looting and stealing horses and robbing banks and shooting up the town and using foul language," he explains. And in "Alamo Dreams" and "Colonel Travis's Lament," McBrearty tackles the legend of the Alamo, finding comedy amid the chaotic bloodshed.
McBrearty's ability to transform tragic or scary events like this demonstrates his generous perspective. Let the Birds Drink In Peace proves that anything can be funny if you consider it from the right angle.© High Country News