In the Drive-By Trucker’s seminal album Decoration Day there’s a song called “Outift” where a father gives some advice to his son with lines like “Don’t call what you’re wearing an outfit” or “Don’t ever say your car is broke”. But one of the lines that stuck with me is, “Don’t worry about losing your accent, a Southern Man tells better jokes.” I’ve had the pleasure to listen to Eryk Pruitt read at a Noir at the Bar, I can vouch that Pruitt tells much better jokes than most. I tell you this because when reading What We Reckon the words drip Pruitt’s voice.
Pruitt’s What We Reckon (Polis Books) begins with Jack and Summer held up in a hotel waiting for fake Texas IDs. They are hunkered down because Jack has stolen a kilo of cocaine and they are on their way to a new life in East Texas. Jack had reached out to an old friend for the IDs, but Jack as always wants more, Jack wants to see what else he can get for himself.
Craig threw up a hand. “You’ve got a way of dragging people down with you and, if it’s all the same, I want to be left out of it. One day or another, someone’s going to get a hold of you. The law or worse, and I can’t have it leading back to me.” He slipped the truck into gear, then didn’t so much as nod as he backed out of the motel lot and, in a spray of gravel and rock, got himself onto the freeway.
Jack stood there a spell. First, he felt awful. Craig’s words, like ricochet, pierced him and knocked him senseless. Then, up came the fury. He’d become quite skilled at starting anew and wasn’t accustomed to someone popping in from his past to throw fast a finger in judgment. It was all he could do to keep from climbing into the shitty Honda they’d just bought and chase down his old friend to run him off the road, give him the what-for he’d probably had coming since they were little.
Eventually, all of that settled and left him standing alone with only the fluorescent hum of the street lamps and the faraway din of traffic. It was easy to hate, thought Jack. It was easy to fly off the handle and take your eyes off the prize.
More difficult was to keep focus.
To learn from one’s mistakes.
Perhaps Craig had a point. Perhaps things had run somewhat off the rails. Perhaps time for a change beckoned. Perhaps it was time he shed himself of Summer or Jasmine or whatever her name was, lest she drag him down.
But he had many things to do before that day came. For one, he had a stolen kilo of cocaine to unload. For another, he had to carefully map the quickest backwoods route into East Texas. And, more pressing, he had about three-quarters of corn liquor left in that bottle back in the room.
He slapped his palms against his thighs, as if brushing them clean, then headed back inside to see if maybe Summer would snap out of it long enough to help him finish it.
What We Reckon is filled with love, drugs, jealousy, more drugs, rage, and then more drugs. Jack and Summer make it to East Texas and that’s where Summer comes to life. In a brief afternoon, her years of experience following Phish and other jam bands, move her from one group of stoners to their dealers and so forth. Jack, on the other hand, is a bit older than the college kids that Summer deals with so he stews in his own thoughts, paranoia, and wild-ass dreams. Though Jack and Summer might have a plan, their history of plans end up going to shit through all the faults of their own. Not all criminals are drug addicts, but drug addicts do make the shittiest criminals.
The dynamic between Jack and Summer is the most interesting part of this book. These characters consistently fail to connect with one another and even when they do come close, it’s always askew. Not only destroying themselves, their toxicity infects those around them. Theirs is a slow-moving clusterfuck. Watching Jack and Summer is not like watching a car crash, no, it’s more like watching an obliterated couple, one totally fucked up and the other trying to care for them until something new drug or bottle comes along and they disappear. What We Reckon is a great read and as fun as that time when Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue decided to cut loose.