Scrawny vets in grief-fueled bar fights and call girls with pen-pals - these are the characters Atlanta is made of. Or maybe it's just the Atlanta of author Josh Green's new collection of short stories: Dirtyville Rhapsodies. Regardless, rich characters in bizarre circumstances give the book a subversive but deeply entertaining tone, all the better when read by Green himself.
Which is part of what makes his reading tonight at Indy Reads Books such a treat. The other half is the fact that Indianapolis finds itself prominently fit into the stories. Born in Terre Haute, Green spent years in the Circle City as a journalist while he studied for his MA in English. While love (of his wife and the climate) pulled him south to Atlanta, Green's time in Indianapolis left a mark.
"You know I met a lot of people when I worked at the newspaper," Green says. "And they influenced the characters. Maybe not a whole person, but stories and facets - you'll find them in the book."
Green's stories center on deeply flawed and complex characters that collide with the breakdowns in everyday life. His acerbic wit carves humor out of even the most grim of circumstances, juxtaposing the horrible with the humorous. He reads like a darker, more literary Hiaasen, or a lighter, less-nihilistic Palahniuk. It's a dark style that has always been with him.
"I think it's because I've always been kind of a subversive person," Green says. "I was expelled from high school for it. I'm a rebel at heart."
The language of his stories is fairly coarse, but in an unforced, natural way that flows from the reality of flawed people in difficult circumstances. It's these characters, engaging even when they are extremely distasteful, that pull you from page to page.
"I try to hone a character down to the point where even I get a kick out of them," Green says. "I try to have diverse characters. I'm into weird. Weird is good. It's interesting."
The stories are all deeply human, but thankfully don't take place in a vacuum. The characters dwell within locations crafted with sharp, biting descriptions. Green can sum up the milieu with a few quick lines, in a way that satiates without clogging up the narrative. Combined with Green's incredible pacing, the stories earn their already voluminous praise.
"The writer moves fluidly among voices, among economic strata, in and out of genders and ages," reads Past Magazine's review of the collection. "Green's a talented writer with a great eye and ear."
Dirtyville is Green's first book, but he's been published many times before in literary journals and as a journalist. He's won awards for his magazine and newspaper writing, and still works in the field. But his passion is with his fiction, and it comes through.
"I remember as a very young kid with a crayon, trying to draw pictures," Green says. "And I couldn't do it. I just didn't have that talent. So I turned the page over and started writing a story. I think it's a passion that I've always had in me."
That talent is currently directed at Green's newest project: his first feature length novel. Still in the embryonic first draft, the book will tackle the struggles of injured vets returning from America's many wars. With a book tour for Dirtyville, and no contract yet, there's no expected due date for this next work.
In the meantime, we've got Green himself in town, ready to read to us. Go to Indy Reads on Mass. Ave at 7 p.m. tonight and catch the author breathing life into stories that hardly need the help. You'll be able to snag a signed copy from an author clearly on the rise. Whether you're looking for a laugh or something literary, Green delivers great short fiction that's as fun as it is dirty.