This short story collection offers snapshots of a life. A kid is set up by an old uncle to think he's going to be scalped. Seeing demons in every shadow a few nights later, he's told by an older cousin it was all a joke, that adults always seem to want kids to go through the same bad things they did. Just how they are. Shut up, he's advised. Get used to it. Hunkered in the dark listening. In the next room, bubbling a bottle with a drinking buddy, his Old Man telling tales of roadhouse glory. Bad odds fist fights, rearranged faces that stay that way. For weeks he wakes afraid to touch his face. Will his nose, ears and eyes have shifted places while he slept, his face forever scrambled, rearranged?
Riots and war. Conscription. The fights, the violence no longer just yarns heard late at night. Drafted at eighteen, he has to decide, will he go halfway round the world to kill people he has no earthly quarrel with? Considers conscientious objection. His girlfriend bluntly asks him when he became a pacifist. You can't, she suggests, the minute you get drafted, suddenly announce yourself as some kind of Instant Gandhi. Not, anyway, and expect a Draft Board made up of World War II vets to buy it.
Teaching in a tiny mountain town. Some kids, he's told early on, are just too dumb to bother with. Signing on for a salesman's pay. Hit your quota or hit the road. Logic of a kiss, that sprung free promise of what life can be, the one constant throughout. A better way glimpsed, lost and found, here and gone. Pitchman's blues.
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