Porch Swing Stories
Ringgold, Miss., the setting of Baltimore-based writer R.A. Moulds' Porch Swing Stories, is a fictionalized town that could have been just about anywhere in the deep South of the early 20th century. The seven stories in this debut collection depict a caste system similar to a feudal state; there is interaction, respect, and even affection between the races, but the established boundaries are never traversed. And yet, though they're acknowledged, racial issues are not the primary focus on Moulds' Porch. The stories, based on the author's Mississippi heritage, are imagined versions of real lives and actual events.
Moulds manages to cover a spectrum of human experiences through the stories, but the mood is generally upbeat. His respectful memories of times that could have been are more similar in tone to those of Georgia native Ferrol Sams (The Widow's Mite and Other Stories) than to the archetypal Mississippi decay of Faulkner.
In "From Greenland's Icy Mountains," 20-year-old Ardis McCreery grapples with his emerging homosexuality. On a trip to a general store, Ardis encounters a young Chinese immigrant with similar inclinations. Sparks fly, and Ardis' world is forever changed. Moulds presents his protagonist's nascent sexuality (and his accompanying discomfort) in a natural, funny, and innocent way that anyone could relate to.
A far more serious story, "The Wounded," depicts a married couple, each partner laden with the burden of tragedy, reunited after World War I. The tale resembles a tragic twist on O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi": Fanny Robideaux has not told her husband of their daughter's death from the Spanish flu, and husband Del shows up at the train station with an arm missing. What should be a happy reunion turns ugly as the couple struggles with things unsaid. As is the case in most of these stories, the characters receive sage advice from a subservient black maid, this time named Willene: "Miss Fann, it hurts--it hurts so bad for a while, but you get up and go another little way, till it hurts some more." The depiction of downtrodden black characters having the deepest insights on life is a hoary stratagem of Southern literature, and Moulds' repetition of that motif is the most serious flaw of an otherwise engaging collection.
Moulds relies on simple language and keen perception to unearth basic components of the human condition. They're somewhat romanticized, perhaps, but these stories nonetheless deal with universal themes and offer new angles on timeworn personal struggles. Porch Swing Stories introduces a writer of great potential.