by Yeva Wiest, contemporary (2008)
Lyrical Press, $3.50, ISBN N/A
Firstly, allow me to give my thanks to Book Utopia Mom for reviewing this short story on her blog and therefore letting me know of its existence.
Practical Purposes is best described as a black comedy. Literally, in some ways - it's set in the predominantly African-American town of Salem in 1977.
Our African-American gay hero Dr James Cole learns at the start of the story that his 84-year old aunt Odessa had recently passed away. The hilarious prologue will tell you how this woman shot down some white trash trying to rob her while shouting out obscenities that will make any mother proud, only to finally meet her maker when the roof collapsed on her, heh. James braves the disapproval of his father James "King" Cole, Sr (yes, Old King Cole) by bringing with him his Irish-Catholic lover, Zachary O'Boyle, as he returns to Salem to attend the funeral. Where there will be fourteen Baptist preachers making the rounds. I don't know about you, but I think this is not going to be turn out so well.
Old King Cole is not amused that his son has brought "that white boy" to attend the funeral so he plans to keep them from attending the funeral even if he has to resort to... unconventional means, let's just say. A tough schoolteacher that cows even the most unruly white trash kids in the neighborhood as well as a preacher, he decides to enlist a bunch of those kids to help him in his mission. Unfortunately, these kids could barely recite the alphabets in the correct order, so this is definitely not going to turn out well at all.
Also in Salem are a bunch of colorful characters. Tallulah Pricewater, a tomboy lesbian, is madly infatuated with the big Black trucker gal Lena Mae, much to the dismay of the nerdy and lovelorn Donnie Burke. Talullah figures in the story because her father runs the funeral home where Odessa is currently decked out and she is the one person who realizes that Old King Cole is lying about James having not arrived in town yet because she saw him when he first drove into Salem. Donnie is meanwhile convinced that James Cole is being held prisoner by his own father in Odessa's house, so he and Tallulah decide to come to the rescue. Well, that is what they planned to do anyway...
The title refers to the reason for Zach wanting to buy a gun to bring with him to the funeral, which should give you an idea of what this story is like. Think, say, a movie made by the Coen brothers, only with an African-American slant. This story is too much fun for words. It's not a romance, but James and Zach are in love, so that counts, right? This is a comedy, instead, full of suburban women kicking rear ends and waving guns just the way I like it as everyone seems to go wild in this story. Seriously, I have such a good time laughing until my sides ache.
This story is not exactly politically correct since there are plenty of jokes here that can offend people. For me, however, this is a fabulous laugh-out-loud romp of the most memorable kind. While I admit that from a technical point this short story suffers from too much head-hopping, continuity errors, and a few misused words, Practical Purposes is such a blast to read and those problems don't get in the way of my fun.
Yeva Wiest, huh? Who is she again and why haven't I heard of her before? This one is such a remarkable dark comedy that has me laughing so hard, I believe I just have to read more of this author's works.
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