By Kevin Hardcastle
It’s easy enough to identify the kind of story Kevin Hardcastle writes. His debut collection is concerned with the hypermasculine lives of rural or semi-nomadic men: hard drinkin’, hard fightin’, hard lovin’. This is the land and these are the people that the Internet, and indeed most of the twenty-first century, forgot. There is no law where they live but only a rough code everyone seems to respect. The police are merely an occasional, and unwelcome, presence, registering only as a crude show of force: cruisers that disgorge gangs of big and even bigger constables who affirm the state’s supposed monopoly on violence.
This could all slip into caricature, but Hardcastle is a strong storyteller with a real feel for vigorous vernacular and oblique dialogue. He likes gummy, earthy compounds like “thawmud” and “ditchturf,” and rustic-sounding locutions like “left out” for “leave.” As you might expect, his characters are mostly the strong, silent type, but they are distinct and individual, stuck in lives of seemingly endless struggle on the fringes of the city, or even the edge of civilization. In one of the best stories, “Hunted by Coyotes,” the main character is literally cast out into these wastelands, drumming up sales for a power company. The work is shady (must of us know the type), but the narrator does have a moral compass, however rough.
The code that informs such lives is as much genetic as it is moral, and the relationship between fathers and sons is front and center throughout. This, in turn, reinforces the sense of entrapment. These are men — they are almost all men — who don’t so much dwell in the past as fall back into it: debris left behind by the secular rapture of the new economy. In so falling they are rendered invisible, falling off the media radar. Their stories describe a reality rarely encountered in today’s fiction, despite being so much a part of the way we live now.
Review first published online January 28, 2016.