The Downriver Horseshoe: Stories
By Scott Miles
Stolen Time Publishing, May 2014
205 pages, $10
Reviewed by Nick Sweeney
Detroit has seen better days. Working-class families there have been searching for them for some time, so much so that the city and its people have become a microcosm of the American Dream revised. The stories of The Downriver Horseshoe by Scott Miles show us that even in the bleakest of days, there are small victories of the best kind to be had. Sometimes it’s simply revelation of character and sometimes it’s simply escaping routine. Miles’s characters constantly look at the daily defeats surrounding them and make choices to better themselves all their own.
Initially, readers may be skeptical of the normalness of the language Miles uses. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything masterful, anything uniquely different from his contemporaries. Digging deeper however will allow readers to discover that Miles is writing about the normal man, the normal family, and the normal struggles that we face. It resonates throughout the collection even though at times the stories seem connected to serve a larger purpose; through the same battles, we as people find different results. This isn’t meant as a slight at Miles, but rather allows the reader to focus on the small oddities of each story. “When You’re the Mailman” showcases this normalcy the best. In light of his struggles, the narrator George simply says that “the mail must continue.” There is no explosive stopping sentence. Miles doesn’t go out of his way to punch his readers in the gut. He doesn’t have to. He writes onward.
Although a reader may see particular patterns emerge throughout some of the stories, this is not a collection of rehashed ideas and recycled characters. We are exposed to different levels of decline, from the memory of Lumpy in “Crash Where You Can” to the good intentioned Steven from “One More Try” and everything in between. Miles creates memorable characters that burst from the page not with the rude forcefulness of a drunken man upset with being cut off but with the loudness of passing sirens and cars in the distance, breaking the silence of a calm night. These characters don’t act simply for the sake of a story’s excitement or strangeness. Simon Touhy in “Mt. Trashmore” feels the necessity of taking the prosthetic leg from work and worshiping it, Goose doesn’t know how to contain his own rage, and we all have a faint idea of the Danny Tiptons of our own lives.
With that said, Miles does showcase some of the finer aspects of short story writing. He writes in the first, second, and third person point of views and does so with equal ability. “Losing Focus” is a cyclic story that serves as an observation of family after a life-changing surgery to rid testicular cancer. By choosing to use the first person point of view, the reader can see the importance of every action of the narrator’s father and the waves he creates by searching for his manhood. We observe the results of bad actions, too, and we understand the sympathy it takes to love someone at their worst. “Freezer Burn,” a story that amplifies best the Miles’ intentions of choices and results, shows the relationship between two men, Goose and Tuck, and the Trans Am they have tried and failed to fix. Goose and Tuck are two different men heading in different directions and the important change between them is their willingness to change, to make a choice all their own. Goose is fine with the routine of their lives and stays consistent whereas Tuck has the ability to learn. “Altoona” is a risky story. Second person point of view stories are always tricky as they dance that line between hinting and commanding the reader but Miles tip toes the line. Sitting in the driver seat of a vacation gone wrong can make a man crazy and Miles manages to not give away his intentions until the very end. This is the only pattern worth remembering, his restraint to let the story and characters write their futures themselves.
The Downriver Horseshoe is a testament to the attempts we take every day. Life isn’t picturesque, it isn’t a scene found in the mind of Norman Rockwell. The stories, the characters, even the minute items that drive the story like the prosthetic leg and the Trans Am, stick with you in a way that you can’t shake. They hunger to be visited again and again. Not all of these characters are people to look up to, but we sympathize because they are human, they are real. We root for them, we want them to succeed. They don’t always win but they try anyway. Miles reminds us better days are indeed ahead but only for those willing to go out and grab them.
Photo By: Len Matthews