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Fiction

 

Dancing at the Gold Monkey

linked stories by Allen Learst

Winner of the 2011 Leapfrog Fiction Contest

YOU CAN'T SLEEP WITH YOUR BEST FRIEND'S WIFE and not feel anything, even when his wife's left him, and she wants to sleep with you. You can’t, but you do. You know there’s no wisdom in this. At Gabe’s Bar, Mick says, “Let’s go up north.” You never lived up north, owned a dog or a gun, but you do now. You keep a .45 in the glove box, and when you leave the bar, Detroit’s a shadow skirting the edges of pavement and chrome.

“Where’s the wisdom?” you ask your friend.

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Faith, mercy, grief, guilt, and love: soldiers returning home are haunted by the emotional pyrotechnics and moral absurdity of War

A young naval officer crashes his fighter jet in the South China Sea, forever changing the lives of the five soldiers who find his body. They move through gritty post-Vietnam Detroit with the women they love in this linked collection of psychological drama, sexual escapades, and latent violence tinged with compassion, grief, and love, arriving finally at the death of one man’s son in Iraq. Learst’s writing explores an interior war, the war of the psyche fought by all returning soldiers, and their attempts to adapt and survive without the knowledge it takes to heal or alleviate their pain.

“Faith, mercy, grief, guilt—these are themes that inform all of Allen Learst’s work in the world. But he is also able to render transient moments of great beauty, to reveal the way we might transcend sorrow by our unwavering attention to exquisite detail and the mystery of creation.” —Melanie Rae Thon

“[A] haunting collection of linked stories. Though the flashbacks rumble throughout Vietnam—from the eerie quiet of mass graves to doped-up laughter at a bunker in the Central Highland Mountains to the blue green waters of the South China Sea, where the body of a downed naval pilot is discovered—many of these stories are set in postwar Detroit. Characters wander by lakes, down city streets, and in a variety of grubby neighborhood bars. With guns. There are always guns. The Gold Monkey is a bar where weary women dance for dollars and men, stooped by the weight of their experiences, go to forget…. Each of these stories contributes to a larger whole, an understanding of a community and the men and women trying to make their way within it. These men spend their lives stumbling from women, whiskey, and each other. Learst writes of them with both clarity and compassion….  Dancing at the Gold Monkey, winner of the 2011 Leapfrog Fiction Contest, is short enough to be read in one sitting, but that doesn’t, by any stretch, make these characters and their lives, forgettable. Allen Learst, a Vietnam veteran, is now a senior lecturer at the University of Wisconsin." --ForeWord

“Time jumps in this accomplished story cycle, as does the boundary betwixt reality and dream, memory and imagination…. And war, as it will, soaks all. Learst writes with the special visceral authority of combat seen and visions earned. Vital, necessary reading.”
—Donald Anderson, author of Fire Road

“The destruction of the human spirit at the hands of an experience that is as emotionally pyrotechnic and morally absurd as the behavior of [Learst’s] characters.”
—Gordon Weaver, author of Count a Lonely Cadence

“A small but mighty collection. Allen Learst lays bare the devastating, and often heartbreaking, post-combat experiences and realities of many of our veterans, past and present. A must-read.”
—John Taylor, CPT, US Army (Vietnam 1969-70)

Learst

A high school graduate from a suburb on Detroit’s Eastside, Allen Learst grew up believing he was destined to work for the auto industry. At 18, he took a job at the Chrysler Tank Plant; later, after Vietnam, where he served as a combat infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division, he worked for the Ford Motor Company Interior Plant. Factory life, however, didn’t agree with him, so he took advantage of his G.I. Bill and began his education at Macomb Community College. He earned a BS and MA from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan, and a PhD in Creative Writing from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Before and during his college years he had more than twenty blue collar jobs. Before returning to school to complete his doctorate, he also worked at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He is now a Senior Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin in Marinette. His website is www.allearst.com.

CATEGORY: Fiction/literature

PAGES: 140

ISBN: 978-1-935248-29-3
PRICE: $14.95
Pub Date: October 2012

Gold Monkey

October 2012

 

 

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