This book is a collection of 11 short fictional stories, which were originally published in various literary magazines. The author is Alex Mindt who studied writing at Columbia University and who now works in New York. Reportedly he's lived in every region of the United States and has held about 50 or so jobs, including carpenter, truck driver and nanny. Reading these stories you certainly get a sense that this author does indeed have a wide array of experiences and how he relates them makes them feel all the more personal.
MALE OF THE SPECIES examines 11 situations involving a father and his child. Whether it's the father or whether it's the child, each story revolves around some strain in the relationship, usually resulting from some illusion that has been established in a mirror that must be shattered. Young or old, black or white, it doesn't matter. Each story is a test of the power of the father-child dynamic, and how a father-child bond can be very strong and very important.
Each tale is breezy. You can read them in no time. Strangely, the very first tale, which won Mindt a literary prize, is probably my least favorite of all the tales. Though it's well written, all of it is composed, as if an internal dialogue. It's not as compelling to me as the later stories. It involves an old Mexican immigrant who is invited to his daughter's lesbian wedding. While that may sound interesting, it basically turns into a road trip story where the old Mexican keeps talking to his dead wife in his mind as he's trucked along by a crazed gringo with marital issues.
The second story "Reception" is fun in that it takes a turn you don't expect when a son feels that his father blames him for the death of his mother during an ice storm. The father hasn't spoken to his son since the wife's death and now the son wants to play matchmaker and fix his father up with a neighbor whose husband left her. All this while the boy's uncle retrieves road-kill, plays the harmonica, and listens to a CB radio. It's a cute story.
But, by far, my favorite story is the fourth one called "An Artist At Work." It involves around a black family living in a nice, wealthy, suburban neighborhood that is perturbed as they wake up to find a burning cross outside their house, on their front lawn one night. What's most perturbing to the patriarch is that the burning cross was placed there, not by a racist neighbor but by his own son. What follows is probably one of the most fascinating examinations of race relations with a new twist on it that I've ever seen or read.
The fifth tale "Male of the Species" is particularly fascinating, as it puts a new spin on the Friday Night Lights scenario, as a father living in Texas has to give a failing grade to a star high school football player, much to the chagrin of the entire town and much to their threat of physical violence.
From there Mindt jumps from Las Vegas to Idaho to southern California to Vermont to Washington State to Nebraska to show us a flock of migrating sandhill cranes. No matter the place, Mindt has an eye for nature and appreciation of surroundings. He frequently uses the technique of flashbacks and having something that is occurring in a character's past run parallel to a crucial event in his or her present.
Mindt is not afraid to take on controversial issues like immigration and homosexuality. He's not even afraid to pose in his characters minds the horrible idea that maybe having kids for some is a mistake and maybe they don't always turn out to be great fathers, but they simply do what they can. It's just amazing collection.
Five Stars out of Five.
Hardcover: 239 pages.