Reviewed by Helen Barnes
“A well-crafted short story collection revealing the everyday truths and pains of living in America’s Deep South.”
Nobody Knows How It Got This Good by Amos Jasper Wright IV is a vibrant collection of short stories connected to the city of Birmingham, Alabama. In the collection, Birmingham represents a unique character in and of itself, a tale being told of a once-thriving culture now struggling to survive.
“Self-actualized to antique ruins, reverting to a giant used car lot, a smooth asphalted prairie….”
Wright IV weaves each tale carefully to portray a full, rounded image of America’s Deep South. Sixteen stories lie between the covers of this ironically titled book, and in nearly each one, an original and colorful character looks to solve a unique, modern-day problem. After a used car salesman is recruited to work for Jaguar, he finds himself fighting off a gang. A street paver seeks comfort at night from his collection of mannequins. A retired firefighter struggles to come to terms with his actions during the Civil Rights Movement. A Walmart worker is trampled to death by Black Friday shoppers. If you’re looking for some deeply honest and deeply southern character interaction, don’t look any further than this story collection.
The wide factors that shape Alabama’s past and present are astutely observed here too. Nobody Knows How It Got This Good (Livingston Press, 2018) explores all sorts of powerful messages and themes: racial tensions and prejudices, economic difficulties, politics, class differences, and gender issues. Repeated reference is also made to corporate giants such as Walmart and Jaguar and their influence on the city and its people. The arrival of Walmart to Birmingham was promised as, “a foreign occupier who’d come in here to civilize the heart of darkness,” an eventuality which the author makes clear has yet to materialize.
Representing personal tragedy and disaster is also a strong motivator for this work. But in addition to the collection’s personal nature, far-reaching cultural events like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the Civil Rights protests, and the Chilean miners stuck underground for 69 days also play significant roles in its pages. The author does a strong job in highlighting these wider events to share the influence of such occurrences on all of our lives, however small.
On the whole, Nobody Knows How It Got This Good is well-written and filled with innovative storylines and cultural relevance. It is a truly enjoyable collection of short fiction. However, I couldn’t help but give pause to the over-sexualization of women in the collection. Written predominantly from a male perspective, women are very frequently referred to as objects of desire, with little other substance to their characters. It is forgivable for a selection of the stories in which the male characters honestly consider women in this way, but it could still cause a few female readers to leave the collection craving some better representation.
Nobody Knows… provides unique insight to a relatively under-represented part of the United States in contemporary fiction, and it does so with humorous voice and style. The writing itself is noticeably skilled, particularly in its characters’ internal musings and beliefs. Although occasionally verbose and overly dependent on metaphor, I would expect that this would be a collection any reader could dip into easily.
With Nobody Knows How It Got This Good, author Amos Jasper Wright IV has done a remarkable job in representing the people of Alabama. From historical events to current day issues, these stories are well-executed and highly entertaining. If you are looking to learn more about the Deep South, its people, and its history, these short stories would be a wonderful addition to your bookshelf.
Purchase your copy of Nobody Knows How It Got This Good by Amos Jasper Wright IV HERE!