SCAR SONGS: STORIES
Brimming with resounding themes and notable characters.
Prolific author Adams plumbs the needs, desires, joys and troubles of male protagonists within these nine tales, beginningwith a teenage grocery store clerk reluctantly monitoring a possible shoplifter in "Thief Catcher." The challenge is heavy for a young person—to balance job retention while expressing compassion for the economically disadvantaged shoppers inhis store. The tale expertly mines themes of humanitarianism, morals, and grace. While "The Last Tequila Run" may soundlike it's set at a frat party, it's anything but. Two drunken friends with "tequila-bloated brains" illicitly venture into Mexico, get stopped by aggressive border patrol, and divulge secrets that blow apart their longstanding friendship. Some stories address the toll of creating art; in "The Music Messiah," a journalist is obsessed with interviewing a tenor saxophone jazz legend who just returned from a Zen monastery where he'd hoped to exorcise his demons. In "Winter Break," an English teacher struggles to keep distracted, entitled students interested in discussing James Joyce's Dubliners (1914). There are other scars to witness and life lessons to be learned throughout Adams' memorable collection, like the drasticconsequences of keeping family secrets in "Ever After," in which a husband hears a lifetime of crushing confession divulged by his wife on her deathbed and then finds sympathy and grief impossible to fathom. The titular tale is perhaps the most affecting. It recounts the history of two brothers—one mourning the death of the other—in a sparsely formatted story suffused with melancholy and anchored by the indelible love of family. There's lots to savor and ponder here. While Adams' seasoned storytelling entertains, it also explores fraternity, family, and the challenge of navigating life's pains and pleasures.
W. Royce Adams' Scar Songs is an engaging collection of short stories that showcase characters coping with life events and the residual feelings stirred by those happenings, including loss, regret, jealousy, betrayal, and even an ultimate breakdown. In the opening story "Thief Catcher," a young grocery store clerk has second thoughts about reporting an elderly shoplifter when he sees the older woman carted away by police. In a similar vein of regret, "Too Late, Naytan" focuses on a man during a flight layover who decides to look up an old friend from high school, only to eventually discover that the long-pondered opportunity has been missed.
From the bitterness and remorse exhibited in "Ever After," when a father is asked by his son to visit a dying ex-wife, to the lament of a popular Harry Chapin song characterized in "Ties That Bind," wherein a man realizes too late that he has followed in his own father's distancing footsteps, Adams' takes readers down relatable, emotionally charged paths.
The author's narratives are succinct and well-crafted, with credible dialogue. Most of these stories are explored through a narrator's first-person point of view. In the title contribution (Scar Song), the narrator learns of his brother's terminal illness. Here, dialogue becomes the lion's share of the story presented as a kind of rhythmic pattern of verse, as the siblings reminisce back and forth in a kind of brotherly farewell. For short story lovers, Scar Songs proves a thought-provoking collection of tales that encapsulate human frailties. Although all the selections here feature a male protagonist, this small, yet enticing volume with its universal sentiments should attract both male and female readers alike.
Blue Ink Reviews
Exploring the complex and commonly overlooked emotional experiences of men, Scar Songs by W. Royce Adams is a bold and unabashed collection of stories that looks at fraternal friendship, along with grief, growth, love, and purpose. These vignettes are candid glimpses into the lives of ordinary people, in large part, but they reveal that even the most forgettable interactions can have long-lasting impacts and echoes. Using an impressive economy of language, Adams captures the psyche and struggles of each story's protagonist with a compelling rawness.
In "Thief Catcher," a young man must pit his sense of duty and need for employment against his basic humanity and compassion, and the dawning reality that punishing poverty doesn't solve the fundamental problem. "The Last Tequila Run" is a surprisingly tender story of two self-destructive friends who drunkenly cross paths with the law in Mexico, only to realize that their ill-fated adventure might be their last before war and distance pull them apart.
A jazz legend who disappeared for years to a Zen monastery suddenly resurfaces, secretive and seemingly heartbroken, but a rare interview reveals that he has become something of a "musical messiah," in a story of the same name. Playing with musical theory, stylistic prose, artistic philosophy, and character-driven drama, this tightly penned tale is one of the best in the collection. In "Too Late Naytan," an unexpected layover leads to one man's nostalgic reminiscence on a strange friendship that had redirected and defined his younger life. Determined to reconnect with that long-lost friend once the plane lands, the main character of this story realizes that memories are sometimes all we are granted.
The titular story is a powerful eulogy for the loss of a brother, a remembrance of innocence and closeness and the promises of childhood. With reflective time jumps and real-time conversations, as well as stark formatting that strips the emotions bare, this is the type of story that will leave you in tears, humming along with the characters on the final page. "Getting Even" is another standout, revealing the complex emotions people feel around death, and the pressure of social norms to generously absolve the dead of their sins.
Playing with tropes of emotionally detached male relationships, but peeling back those heavy-handed facades, these stories will echo in relatable ways for countless male readers. The writing style is straightforward and declarative in most pieces, without flowery embellishment, though Adams can sometimes flourish up a passage with a description-laden line that shines. From top to bottom, this collection is carefully curated and each story is sharply remarkable in its potency, plunging readers into unique premises, quickly acquainting them with the setting, and making them sincerely invest in these scarred, deeply human characters. Boasting explorations of depression, repression, self-deception, and revelation to revenge, resentment, forgiveness, and sacrifice, Adams runs readers through an aggressive gamut of emotions, for an insightful and thematically complex collection.
Despite its title, this collection from Adams (Against the Current) doesn't center on rent or healing flesh, though one of its several hell-raising young people does, in the years just before the Korean war, burn his initials into his arm with chemistry class acid. Instead, Scar Songs sings of hearts bruised and toughened by experience, over the course of a lifetime, starting with a young man's shock at the thoughtless cruelty of the adult world in the treatment of a shoplifter in the opening story, "The Catcher," or another—possibly the same—young man's encountering of Mexican authorities in the border-crossing centerpiece "The Last Tequila Run." The latter's a richly complex story that builds to the narrator's understanding of the most evergreen betrayal of the young by the old: the young getting sent off to fight and die in the old's wars.
Adams balances coming-of-age tales (including the knockout "Too Late Nathan," which deftly blends past and present) with stories of adults bearing up under the weight of accumulated scar tissue. "The Music Messiah," perhaps the collection's most atypical story, finds the narrator, a well-regarded music jazz journalist, eager to interview a returning titan of the tenor sax, back on the scene but still laying somewhat low after years away. The saxman's tale—blending elements of several jazz greats' biographies—is a moving account of healing from loss, addiction, and more, while striving to show others a path forward, too.
The power of art also fuels the painfully comic "Winter Break," a story that concerns the primal pain of teaching material one cares for deeply—in this case, a story from Joyce's Dubliners—to students. Its form and technique echoes Joyce but also jazz, building to an epiphany whose language suggests a dazzling solo … and also the pain of loving art and culture so deeply in a society that doesn't. Adams's stories are crisp, incisive, briskly told dispatches about living on in spite of it all.
Takeaway: Incisive short stories about persevering as life scars us.
Comparable Titles: T.C. Boyle's "Greasy Lake," Richard Yates's "A Really Good Jazz Piano."
BookLife Reviews Editor's Pick/Publishers Weekly
All in all, Scar Songs: Stories is a work highly worthy of your consideration. The stories will make you think, make you wonder, make you reminisce and help remind you of your own experiences and what made you feel the way you did at the time — a time long gone by but with lasting consequences for sure. In letting readers in on what's to come, Adams uses this quote from bell hooks as a way to offer hope for those living in a scar-crossed universe: "Contrary to what we may have been taught, unnecessary and unchosen suffering wounds us but need not scar us for life. It does mark. What we allow the mark to become is in our own hands." Many of the poignant moments Adams writes about are sparked by death, or someone close to it. It is at these moments that people tend to look back at their actions, their feelings, their lives. Reflection. Guilt. Confusion. Sentimentality. Uncertainty. Love. Pain. Scars. Adams's work covers them all.
In W. Royce Adams's short story collection Scar Songs, people cope with loss and their past mistakes as best they can.
In these stories, a teenage employee comes to regret reporting an elderly woman for shoplifting. And during a layover, a man decides to reconnect with his strange yet contemplative friend from high school. Elsewhere, a father realizes too late that he emulated his own father's worst behaviors. These and other characters face myriad missed opportunities, sudden deaths, and discomfiting epiphanies, through which they all learn the same lesson: that finding a way to deal with one's past is the only way to move on from it.
The prose is spare and conversational, focusing on each narrator's voice, memories, and feelings as they navigate the most difficult moments of their lives. Each person has a different way of dealing with trauma. The narrator of "Ever After" swings between bitterness and numbness while his ex-wife dies of cancer. In "The Last Tequila Run," a timid college student struggles with feelings of betrayal after an encounter with the law and an unexpected revelation from his best friend.
"The Music Messiah" stands out as the only story in which the man struggling with loss is not the one narrating the story; instead, an outsider—an admiring reporter— tasks himself with discovering why an acclaimed musician who could be making millions now plays with fledgling bands. And "Getting Even" is notable for its reflection on a different sort of darkness: in it, a retired professor contemplates a misplaced act of revenge against a deceased colleague.
Many of the characters grew up in the middle of the twentieth century, and their experiences reflect a time when men were expected to take certain actions and behave in certain ways. This has a huge influence on how these characters relate to their families, their careers, and their own emotions; it often hinders their ability to make good choices. Still, the book's heroes are less memorable than the circumstances that they find themselves grappling with. They come to seem like vehicles by which universal problems and moral dilemmas can be explored. Further, the formatting sometimes muddies a sense of who is talking. This is most obvious in "Scar Song," which is told almost entirely through dialogue.
Still, these direct, poignant stories tap into universal feelings of loss and regret that come with losing friends, ending relationships, and reviewing old memories. Some wounds may never heal, they suggest, but they will scar over. To what extent they do so, and how the wounded party chooses to carry their scars, is up to them.
Scar Songs is a collection of stories about learning to live with past pain, whether that means keeping it close or letting it go.
Clarion Review by Eileen Gonzalez
Nine stories about characters whose experiences—from the loss of loved ones to shattered relationships—have left them emotionally scarred.
In his commencement address at Syracuse University, author George Saunders writes, "What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly." Failures of kindness, and the regrets they leave in their wake, permeate SCAR SONGS, a short story collection by W. Royce Adams. Over the nine stories that comprise SCAR SONGS, Adams, whose work has received Honorable Mention awards from Glimmer Train and been selected as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2017, writes about characters whose experiences—from the loss of loved ones to shattered relationships—have left them emotionally scarred.
Many of the stories in the collection center around illness and death. In "Ever After," a man is forced to confront a lifetime of mistakes when his ex-wife is stricken with terminal cancer. In "Ties That Bind," long-suppressed resentment and envy between siblings erupts when they are reunited for their mother's funeral. And in "Scar Song," the narrator speaks with his dying brother as he reflects on their relationship. In other stories, characters ruminate over guilt feelings, as in "Thief Catcher," in which a supermarket employee regrets his role in the arrest of a shoplifter. Or crumble beneath the weight of a lifetime of disillusionment, as in "Winter Break," in which a college professor suffers a mental breakdown while discussing James Joyce's short story "Araby."
Adams's protagonists, often older characters delving into past memories, are typically not the victims of trauma but observers. Standing on the sidelines of other people's anguish, these narrators suffer the inarticulable pain of survivor's guilt—both literal and figurative—over actions they cannot take back or past neglect that cannot be addressed. There are no villains in SCAR SONGS, just ordinary, flawed people struggling with a life's accumulation of small but significant wrongs. Adams writes the lives of his broken, haunted characters with spare but artful grace, uncovering their frailties with clear-eyed candor while acknowledging the ambiguities and contradictions of human nature. Shunning the impulse to wrap up his narratives in tidy moral lessons, Adams frequently leaves his protagonists in a limbo of unresolvable, inarticulable remorse, wracked with pain they can recognize but not quite identify. SCAR SONGS is a difficult but rewarding journey, studded with hard-won truths and sharp, if bitter, insights.
Author W. Royce Adams writes the lives of his broken, haunted characters with spare but artful grace, uncovering their frailties with clear-eyed candor while acknowledging the ambiguities and contradictions of human nature.
~Edward Sung for IndieReader
It was a nice change to tackle a collection of short stories like those written by W. Royce Adams in Scar Songs: Stories. Once I finished reading these nine tales featuring male protagonists, each one of whom engaged me psychologically and moved me emotionally, I found myself debating whether it's harder for an author to write a novel or short story. My conclusion? Short stories…and here's why. With no time for wasting words, or detailed descriptions and backstories to slow down the pace, W. Royce Adams gets us quickly inside his protagonists' heads, hearts, and souls. If that sounds easy, it isn't. Take the last story in this collection: Adams expertly captures exactly what is happening in an old professor's head as he tries to stay focussed on the lesson he's teaching. His mind wanders between analyzing his students' appearances to undressing his female students while barely hearing answers to the questions he just asked.
In another story, one to which I immediately related, a son cannot bear to look upon the now-painted but lifeless face of his mother in the open casket. Why? He needs and prefers to remember his mother when they sailed together in his boat. She had a special place for him in her heart that his father didn't. Then, there's the story about a husband struggling with his children's request that he visit his ex-wife on her deathbed. He cannot find forgiveness for her failure to be honest with him about her past. Their marriage was a sham. But, now, in hindsight, was the fault all hers? Through story after story, W. Royce Adams invites us to examine ourselves through his characters. Regardless of our genders, backgrounds, and experiences, we can all relate to the universal themes Adams explores. Without wasting words, he somehow compresses his characters while epitomizing their true essence. This is excellent short story writing and recommended reading.
Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite 5 Stars
Scar Songs is an enthralling collection of nine short stories by W. Royce Adams. All nine stories follow men from a myriad of different backgrounds facing traumatic events that change the course of their lives. A young employee at a grocery store catches a customer stealing from the establishment, only to be plagued by severe guilt after the act. A music critic tries his best to land an interview with a reclusive and legendary jazz musician, unexpectedly finding himself enlightened by the experience. Upon his oldest son's insistence, a divorced man visits his dying ex-wife, only to end up struggling with anger, regret, and resentment. After receiving news of a former colleague's death, a retired English college professor faces adifficult predicament; should he expose the misdeeds of his former colleague or let bygones be bygones?
W. Royce Adams tells captivating stories that showcase the frailties and flaws of humans and how the unexpected turns of life can catch us by surprise. Scar Songs is a book that you will love if
you're interested in stories that explore the human condition through well-realized characters with layers of depth. Every story in this collection follows a distinct character from a different background who faces an event that turns his world upside down. Although I enjoyed every single tale, Thief Catcher and Getting Even are two of my favorites from the bunch. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and recommend it to others who love short stories that provoke introspection.
Reviewed by Pikasho Deka for Readers' Favorite 5 stars