In Mandy Haynes’s collection of Southern tinged short stories, Sharp as a Serpent’s Tooth, characters are as different as Jayhawks and Starlings, they grin like possums, and, if in need while in someone’s bad graces, are told they can go get what they want “their own dang self.” Throughout the assembly of Haynes’s five, compelling stories, her character-intensive narrative is urgent and breathless, so regionally pitch-perfect as to feel indiscreet:
“Now don’t roll your eyes at me,” the narrator of short story, Junebug Fischer says. “You know dang good and well Rita’s daughter did not get pregnant on her honeymoon. And you know same as me that she shouldn’t have married that no count Tucker, pregnant or not.”
Sharp as a Serpent’s Tooth is laser-sharp, finely wrought fiction in each stand alone story. In “Eva,” the abused daughter of a con-artist preacher is depicted with such Southern Gothic surrealism as to make her seem other-worldly. In “Plans for Sweet Lorraine,” a fearlessly headstrong mother is led by gut-intuition to rescue her innocent daughter from the clutches of a smooth-talking charlatan posing as a man of God.
In each story, the narrator’s voice is chock full of gumption– the sure-footed kind grown and fostered in the hollows of the rural South. They are all unique, memorable narrators. In “The Day I threw the Rock,” the young, red-haired narrator prefers to go barefoot in overalls, in whose pocket she keeps a garden snake as she unfurls the high-drama of events that lead to her throwing the eponymous rock. In “Cussing Snakes and Candy Cigarettes,” a young girl defies common, local opinion of her dead mother’s twin sister, in an eye-opening summer that impacts her coming of age.
Author Mandy Haynes approaches her craft with an uncanny grasp on pace in perfect measure. Her authentic voice is beyond comparison. Her high-stakes stories are layered with utter unpredictability. I cannot recommend this Southern to the core collection of short stories emphatically enough. Each of the five stories in Sharp as a Serpent’s Tooth is the perfect combination of riveting story and character as place.
Mandy Haynes has spent hours on barstools, at backstage venues, and riding in vans listening to some of the best songwriters and storytellers in Nashville, Tennessee. She now lives in Fernandina Beach, Florida with her three dogs, one turtle, and a grateful liver. Her first collection, Walking the Wrong Way Home was a finalist for the Tartt Fiction Award, and selected as a bonus pick for The Pulpwood Queens’ 2020 Reading List.
Mandy Haynes’s Blog http://www.the runawaywriter.com