While we argued whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie, Paul Heatley released a stunner of dark comic noir Christmas story, “Christmas Stockings”. After a month of working as a store Santa, Santa stops at a dive bar to celebrate a month of sobriety for a night of paycheck drinking. At a bar littered with a sadness of people and a Christmas tree stinking of piss, Santa strikes up a conversation with Randy who is racing him to the tumbled and twisted finish line of retching and blacking out. Instead of being a bourbon and beer companion for Santa, Randy turns out to be an asshole. Randy gets a phone call and exits leaving Santa to chat up Chris, the proprietor of the type of bar that exists for the lonely and twenty-somethings looking for a story to tell their friends on Monday morning among grey cubicles and spreadsheets. Now that’s the beginning of a wonderful Christmas story.
Part Potterville despair and equal part brutal violence, Paul Heatley’s “Christmas Stockings” is the type of holiday tale that Charles Bukowski might have written for the Lifetime channel. Coming in around 25,000 words, Paul Heatley’s “Christmas Stockings” pairs well with a few shots of Fireball.
Joey Hidalgo’s life is falling apart and he thinks he can fix it. He can’t. Paul Heatley’s Fatboy (All Due Respect Books) opens with Hidalgo beginning to come out of a three-day drunk after his girlfriend left with their boy. Heatley has Hidalgo piling up the empties on the bar as fast as he denies any knowledge of reason for Billie leaving him. But not only has Hidalgo burned all the bridges with his girl, he has to come crawling back to the bar owner to keep his job. After the minor success of keeping his job at a dive bar, Hidalgo falsely senses he is beginning to get his life back in order, but Billie still keeps herself at a distance and, more damaging to Hidalgo, she keeps their boy away.
Fatboy is a tale of Hidalgo’s sideways journey to an unrealistic redemption, but he is not the eponymous character, that is left to Adam Bell, whose “jowls in his neck were so deep a finger could lose itself all the way to the knuckle”. But the weight is not the reprehensible part of Bell, it is that he’s a grade-A dick and bully. Night after night of multiple rounds of racist name-calling toward Hidalgo, Bell always has a “sickly smile he wore like he was oh-so-pleased with himself, that never changed.”
O’Donoghue’s, where Hidalgo works and Bell bullies about, has two major clients: workers from Bell’s dad’s shop and hookers. It is the confluence of parties that seeds Hidalgo’s mind on how to win back the unwinnable, his girl and his boy, both of which he misses and loves.
Used to be he’d get home in the early hours after he finished up at the bar and he’d climb into bed and be out like a light. But that was when he was coming home to Billie and his boy, the two usually in the same bed with the kid having woken in the night while daddy was still at work. Joey would lie down next to Billie and she’d nestle into him ass-first and the smell of her hair would be in his nose and peace would wash over him. Wouldn’t matter how long he’d been on his feet and how much his legs hurt, wouldn’t matter how many drunks he’d had to eject or fights he’d had to break up, or how much of the fat boy’s bullshit he’d had to swallow. Once he was in that warm bed, his arms around his family, it was all forgotten.
Now, the bed was cold when he got home. He lay on top of the blanket and stared at the ceiling and waited for sleep to claim him but it rarely did, other than for a couple of hours at a time. When he looked in the mirror there were dark bags under his eyes and his cheeks were thinner.
Heatley has expertly created a flawed protagonist, Hidalgo, whose desperation makes this book a universal tale of despair and delusion. Fatboy is a working-class tragedy of a man trying to rebuild his life while ignoring his own responsibility for its continuous descent.
Also, kudos to Eric Beetner for designing such a fantastic cover.