I first ran across Miah Jeffra’s work in Sibling Rivalry Press’s collection of his essays, The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic!, which I thoroughly enjoyed, so I was looking forward to reading this bunch of his short stories, and I must say he’s just as witty, incisive, and entertaining in the realm of fiction. The Violence Almanac glitters like a dark diamond.
The shine is evident from the first short piece, “Growl,” but this is minor compared to the next two stories. “Babies” is a recounting of the tale of Andrea Yeats who, you may remember, is the Texas mother who drowned her five children in their bathtub twenty years ago. The incident is told from several points of view: one of the children, Noah, Andrea herself, her husband, Rusty, and a fictional biographer. It’s difficult to tell which of these viewpoints is the most poignant, but just as we begin to wonder whose eyes we’ll see this incident through next, Jeffra changes the form up to a screenplay of the book the biographer is writing. That should be jarring, but the format works, providing some distance as Andrea and Rusty discuss having the last of the children she kills. He then switches back to the biographer and, finally, Andrea after the crimes have been committed. Far from being fractured despite the changes in viewpoint, “Babies” hangs together both as a piece of realistic fiction and a cautionary tale.
The second story in this one-two combo punch is “Jingle-Jingle-Pop,” the story of “pre-op T” Lalo and her friends working the mean streets of L.A. Here, Jeffra goes all first person and brings us a singularly unique voice. Lalo and the girls are reeling from the death of their friend, Champagne, at the hands of a Carlos–they call all the tough johns they work Carlos. Learning the lesson, Lalo concentrates on saving money for her bottom surgery and finding a good man to take her out of this life. Deep down, however, she knows no one escapes. So, when the brown El Dorado that Champagne was last seen getting into shows up…well, this chola don’t print no spoilers. Wholly engaging and as tough as it is compulsive to read, this is storytelling at its finest.
If these two stories were the only ones in the book, it’d still be worth your time and money, but there’s so much more to discover, such as “Gethsemane,” the history of a house and its previous occupants as seen through the eyes of a realtor trying to sell it, a boy anxious to win the respect of his abusive father by bringing in a fugitive in “Footfall,” and the examination of a relationship as a man tries to rescue a sick pigeon in “Saving a Bird” for starters. But really, you can land anywhere among these tales and find a great story.
So, if you missed The Fabulous Ekphrastic Fantastic!, go back and pick it up, but the stories comprising The Violence Almanac are the shouts of a new, richly talented voice. You won’t regret it.
© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler