Book Review: Pekolah Stories
Reviewed by Erica Ball
An uncompromising look at how easily trauma can spread through interlinked lives, despite all the best intentions
Pekolah Stories by Amanda Bales is a short story collection exploring an impoverished Oklahoma town and the human and societal forces that shape life there. The stories are varied: some are prose, some poetry, and they run the gamut from first-person to second-person and to third-person. One story is even composted entirely of hymn titles. Despite the variety of form, the overarching feeling is consistent and one of repressed desperation.
The town is mired in an unforgiving combination of economic devastation and misguided religious bigotry. Much of the misfortune experienced by the characters in these stories is due to the violence bred by this toxic combination.
The reactions of the characters in these stories feel so human. In many cases they are good people living in hardship, putting one foot in front of the other, trying to help each other get by. But they are living out the only lives that are possible in their circumstance, and at times, this means unkindness and even violence.
Each story centers on a different character. In some stories, the identity of the character is not explicitly revealed. Some readers may not enjoy this ambiguity and uncertainty, but in this case, it is intriguingly done with hints as to who the central character is, their back story, and/or their connection to characters in previous stories. Similarly, there are helpful historical references that the reader can use to determine how long may have passed between stories.
A major strength in all the stories is the feeling of place. The natural world surrounding the small town, though often a source of solace for the residents, is also filled with abandoned buildings and other signs of long-gone economic prosperity. These falling-down buildings serve as the bleak setting for pivotal scenes.
Because of the diverse nature of the storytelling, Pekolah Stories is recommended for readers who appreciate varied forms of storytelling. Readers who enjoy stark realism will be drawn to the honesty in Bales’s depiction of life in impoverished places. As mentioned, readers will need to be comfortable with the disorientation of not knowing certain things, and instead, just get a feel for the message being conveyed.
In all, Pekolah Stories is an unflinching portrayal of intergenerational trauma and the relentless cycle of poverty. It is about how human reactions to horrific events can set in motion further disasters and consequences down the line. But it is also about how many will endeavor to create a good life nevertheless.
Genre: Short Story Collection
Print Length: 171 pages
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