There is a deep fear I have that is a constant hum in my background, a fear that somehow I’ll fuck up all of this – crazily gestures to my world around me – and it will be gone. No home, no car, no money, and a pair of broken glasses. All gone to shit. My nightmares are the world that Liam Sweeny’s Street Whispers inhabits.
Given my fears, “Rats” is one of the obvious stories that connected with me. A homeless man’s best friend dies and this death gives the unnamed narrator a chance to remember their friendship and how it all came to be.
When you first cash out, you learn things. It’s like getting thrown out of the space station—it looks damn near safe from behind the windows, though I bet the view’s a lot prettier in space. Most people start out couch surfing until their friends and family get burned out, ’cause you don’t get on the streets by spending that time sorting your life out. No, I went from mortgage to garbage in a little over a month.
So getting back, I didn’t know how to be homeless. I just had this idea of the bum sleeping under newspapers on a park bench, so I had a dollar and a quarter, bought a Sunday paper, and carefully unfolded it, wedging it between me and the slivered wood.
This theme of failing and falling continues throughout Street Whispers: the alcoholic caught in making amends in “The Ninth Step”, a man thinks about confronting the immense tragedy of his life in “The Gull Princess”, the owner of a restaurant and his friend share drinks outside of the shuttered food join in “Last Night as Mesca’s”, or “Drifter”, a man who gets retribution for others without their knowledge.
I’m in the barn right now, and I know I’m gonna have to go on from here. The drips coming off the pickax are slowing down like seconds going toward a black hole.
He deserved it. Fucked Hank’s little girl. Baggy pants, side-spin hat, bling, and crisp white Jordans—eye candy to a ten-year-old. Hank caught ’em in her room when he went up to tuck her in.
Hank’s a good man. Men like him deserve better than what the world’s got for ’em. A tough guy can knock out a heifer, but a strong man can carry a calf with a broken leg three hundred yards to the barn to nurse it to health. That’s Hank. A strong man. I admire him. I took the Cain off his shoulders and he’ll never know.
I might be alone in this, but I tire of stories with the O-Henry-like endings because as I read them, I find myself trying to figure out what that twist is going to be in the final sentence. Except for “White Trash on the Road to Canada” and “A Gentleman’s Game”, both of which I found too cute in construction, Sweeny is able to keep my attention throughout these type stories even as I’m trying to outguess the author.
Going back to the theme of Street Whispers, Sweeny’s characters and situations talk about those that go unnoticed; these are the people whose lives get cut out from the weekly police blotter. Liam Sweeny’s Street Whispers is a solid short story collection of crimes, mishaps, and exhaustion.