HAVOC IN MOTION
By Jay Raymond White
Published by Whoopinhell Books, 2010
Reviewed by James Tipton
Havoc in Motion, Jay Raymond White’s new book is a collection not only of the fine pieces that appeared in his column, also called “Havoc in Motion” in El Ojo del Lago (November 2008-October 2009), but also of more than two dozen “Poems and Lyrics” and almost a dozen short stories, concluding with the remarkable “Quinceañera” episode from his novel The Rattler of Zacatecas, which has been favorably compared to the novels of Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry.
Most readers of El Ojo del Lago will be delighted to rediscover the story of “Great Uncle Pete’s Teeth,” in which, while Uncle Pete is waiting on her wedding day for the arrival of his daughter Clara, he chokes on a strong pull at the whiskey jug, causing his mail-order dentures to shoot out, at the same time his old black and tan hound catches them and takes off running.
And who can forget “Grampaw Bailey and the Tupelo Mule”? That “Tupelo Mule was a bona fide pseudo-equine nightmare,” a mule that could kick in any direction “with all four legs simultaneously.”
Or the tale of his mama and his dad’s brand new Olds (“’Opal,” he instructed her, ‘it’s okay to sit in the Olds and dream about it as much as you like; just don’t touch anything.’”), or Mama and the Garter Snake (“Mama loved all animals as long as they had legs.”), or the tale of “Mama and the Rottweiler,” or the “Mama and The Studebaker” (this was after she wrecked his Olds, and this time his Dad said, “’Opal Lee, that Studebaker right there does not exist. Do you understand me?”
A lovely photo of his mother, who “in her fortieth year (1951), might have been mistaken for Elizabeth Taylor coming and Susan Hayward going,” appears on the Acknowledgements page.
“Short Stories” includes powerful pieces like “A Nest of Sparrows,” in which a strange young man is taken in, against the wishes of her husband, by a woman who had lost her son in Vietnam; and “Last Bus to Charleston,” in which a sailor returns home, ready to take over as head of a troubled family, only to discover the family itself has changed and some dark secrets are ready to be revealed. There are vignettes like “Juárez” in which the narrator, about to land in Juárez, begins to imagine the worst: “Avenida Juárez is dead. The shops closed; the restaurants closed; the bars and bistros closed…boarded…locked, abandoned.”
The “Appendix” includes excerpts from both The Rattler of Zacatecas (2001)—written because the author “wanted to depict the assassination of Pancho Villa just as I believe it must have happened, and then how Villa’s death affected the lives of those of my characters who variously loved him and despised him”—and his novel in progress, Yaqui Wind: “The Yaqui Wind rolled in out of Mexico every spring, through the passes of the Sierra Madre and across the deserts of northern Chihuahua, picking up speed every foot of the way because there was nothing at all to impede it.” Yaqui Wind again displays White’s fascination for the Mexican revolution: “It was just such a wind that blew Pancho Villa into Columbus, New Mexico in the spring of 1916. And he sacked the town. And he burned it to the ground.”