Andrew Brininstool’s stories in Crude Sketches Done in Quick Succession are not crude. They’re skillfully told, though some of the happenings within are crude, as in rough or harsh. For example, lots of males get into fistfights, lots of people get drunk, and liaisons don’t go smoothly. Brininstool, an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Stephen F. Austin State University, populates his stories with lively characters, some more likable than others. Andrew Brininstool’s stories in Crude Sketches Done in Quick Succession are not crude. They’re skillfully told, though some of the happenings within are crude, as in rough or harsh. For example, lots of males get into fistfights, lots of people get drunk, and liaisons don’t go smoothly. Brininstool, an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Stephen F. Austin State University, populates his stories with lively characters, some more likable than others.
One story’s unusual setup is in 22 tiny chapters of one sentence or several. “Brass on Oak, Oak on Marble, Marble on Glass, Glass on Steel” has Charlie bemoaning hundreds of plaques in the house applauding his father’s accomplishments. Then Dad dies, and Mom gets rid of the plaques while Charlie is away at college. What follows is his search to track them down, which ends with an absolutely charming final chapter.
Brininstool takes lots of detours in his stories, but they eventually pinpoint the pleasures and displeasures of adult relationships. And the pleasures and displeasures of having or not having children, as illustrated sharply in “Young Arsonists in Love.” The childless Gordon has gotten rich after inventing a potty-training device: “I’ve been given the moral compass of a tyrant, with twice the wealth.” He interrupts two boys, barely teenagers, who are about to set fire to a wooden playground to impress a girlfriend, and invites them to his 6,500 sq. ft. house, making them a deal: “I want you boys to [ . . . ] housesit. Have whatever you want from the fridge. Watch movies. Play video games. Bring girls over. Throw a bacchanal. It’s all yours. Then, I want you to burn it to the ground.”
There is a child in “Mirabeau the Truant,” though neither parent is eager to have him on board, a slow and bullied eleven-year-old. Another child is involved in “Stick Figures,” though it’s the adults who pummel each other. The story takes its title from the drawings of 5-year-old Callie, who lives with her mom. Her dad Sonny has taken in a roommate, Cody, who’s in the midst of an about-face from his previous religious leanings. Sonny is just trying to connect with his daughter, but problems caused by Cody keep squelching his efforts.
“Kankakee” is a whimsical story wherein Myra in Kankakee, Illinois, receives an enormous number of anonymously sent packages containing everything from a duck shaped lamp to rolls of insulation. Myra and mailman know what is in the last box. We can only guess.
Another tale also leaves the future in question, kind of like real life. In “A World in Which None of This Shit Matters,” Daniel and girlfriend Annie are chaperoning a field trip for Annie’s insolent son Todd’s fifth grade class. Destination: a lighthouse. Daniel might actually rather be alone in Topeka, Kansas.
Look for a change of pace when Gina, an oversexed, dethroned Miss Oklahoma pairs up with a surgeon named Ron in “Big Eyes, Wide Smiles.” He’s taken leave from his family, maybe temporarily, and is on his way to California. At a motel where Ron stayed as a kid with his parents, he finds something he wasn’t looking for.
My least favorite story in the collection was the last: “A Season Too Many,” which will probably appeal to football fans. The narrator, called The Backup, is a pro football player enduring his last season before retirement. He ignores his daughter “[ . . . ] she is nearly six-foot-two with a body as broad as a refrigerator. Seventeen now. Smells like sex.” to study his playbook. Later, a bunch of men square off for a not so friendly game of football at a party. This tale is different from Brininstool’s others. I wonder if he enjoyed writing this one the most.
For my money, there’s a little too much physical confrontation in these stories. Does that make it a guy book, as opposed to chick lit or everybody lit? Not necessarily. All types of readers have the potential to get something out of this “crude,” rough collection if they give it a try.