Buy this book! I heard a wonderful program on this collection of short stories tonight, and I guarantee you'll chuckle--maybe a few belly laughs--all the way through it. Jim Lee, the author, is an old and treasured friend, although he claimed publicly tonight that I once rejected his short stories on the grounds that short story collections are hard to sell (only time I've been publicly booed that I can remember). In my defense, the stories were then set in Alabama...now he's moved them to Texas and caught the flavor, humor, and pathos of rural Texas. And he'll sell them because he'll do public talks about them and captivate people. I should have had more foresight. I do remember the postal carrier from those stories years ago, and he's again prominent in this collection.
Jim is many things--a scholar, a prolific author of nonfiction, essays, and book reviews, a folklorist--but above all he is a raconteur, a story teller, a public speaker par excellence. He can spin a yarn that will keep you fascinated or send you into smiles if not giggles. And sometimes he breaks into song, which he did tonight. He taught English at the University of North Texas for forty years or more, served as department chair for a long time. He's a member of everything that counts in Texas--Texas Institute of Letters, Texas Literary Hall of Fame, Fellow of the Texas Folklore Society. But he's also a loyal friend who reads what others have written and offers unvarnished opinons--sometimes too unvarnished. And, finally, he's a gentleman. These days he generally wears a fedora and tips it when he meets a lady. I've known ladies to swoon over that handsome man wearing a hat. I won't divulge his age here, but he's older than you think and than he looks, and he talks about it often.
For a long while, when I was director of TCU Press, Jim was our acquisitions editor. He was proud of pointing out that his letter of appointment specified "without compensaation." But he made a lot of good acquisitions and probably saved me from some major mistakes. We used to lunch often and shared family stories, ups and downs. He never hesitated to take me to task when he thought I was out of line, and I appreciated that. These days, I don't see much of him, and I miss him. He told me recently he was staying home and washing his hands frequently to avoid the flu; I think he was staying home and writing short stories. This, his first venture into published fiction is further proof of his versatility.
Jim Lee, that transplant from Alabama, is a true Texan, and he's produced a book that is true Texas.