Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Old School by Dan O'Shea

After reading Old School by Dan O’Shea, I found myself returning to the beginning… back to the very first story in the collection. It reminded me of my youth when I was around eight or nine years old, about the time my stepmother finally let me wander with my friends across the road at the end of our street, down the stairs passed the tennis courts, and into the children’s park that was full of big green trees and a stream that we would cross into the "wilderness” on the other side. The "wilderness" was the place where we would hide from all the other kids and share our secret crushes on the boys in school.  The city had even tied together old tires on a section of the stream that was nestled in the back corner of the park shaded by some trees with big green leaves and branches that reached towards the heavens. It was back in the day when kids were allowed to be kids, and we could play in the park from sun up to sun down… freely… uninterrupted… with the only worries being whether or not we were going to stop for lunch or just eat the wild blackberries growing in the “wilderness” over yonder. Most days we would continue to play until the street lamp at the top of the hill illuminated it’s message letting us know it was dinner time and that we needed to head home… or face the wrath of our parents.

It also reminded me of one summer day so very, very long ago when we went to the park early only to find that our secret space in the “wilderness” was being used by some older kids… the ones that would make fun of us and tease us if we bothered them. So, we headed over to the tires to hang out in the shade only to have the older kids come over and push us out, causing Molly to fall into the stream and scrape her knee. Feeling defeated, but unwilling to go home, we crawled to the top of the big, metal alien spaceship thingy in the center of the park and we looked out the peep holes and plotted against the invasion of the bullies.  Finally, after what seemed like hours, the bullies started moving, and after taking one last drag on their cigarettes and tossing the used butts into the stream… they left. 

We waited inside our spaceship for a few extra minutes before finally making our way down the ladder and over to the tires. I think we were only there a couple of minutes when one of us found a brand new pack of cigarettes stuck inside the tire wall. A couple minutes later we were dunking the things in the stream, getting them good and wet, and then putting them back where we found them. A couple minutes after that we realized that the cigarettes secretly stashed away probably meant the older kids were coming back, and that it was in our best interest to get as far away from the tires as possible.

But kids are curious creatures. And when we saw the older kids returning to the park we followed them over to the tires and stood around the wooden posts staring at them, just waiting for them to find their ruined cigarettes. I think I was more towards the front, looking a little more excited then I should have been. I even remember a giggle escaping my lips when the oldest boy in the group reached into the tire wall to grab his pack of cancer sticks. It probably wasn't the best thing to do, ‘cause the next thing I remember is my ass being planted on the ground, and a couple of the older girls in their group standing around me picking tobacco chunks out of my hair.  Then the guy was in my face screaming words that I knew, but I wasn't supposed to say, and I was crying and wiping away tears while trying to figure out why had he singled me out. Why me? Well, now, at 42... the answer is so obvious.

And that memory is one of things I love most about reading stories by Dan O’Shea. His stories have never been full of fluff and filler, no rambling nonsense just to fill up a page or two. Dan’s writing invokes images… that inspire memories… that cause you step inside the story and live in that moment with the characters. No filler just… solid writing.  I remember being impressed once with how Anne Rice could describe the desert for three pages without me getting bored. Seriously, three entire pages all about sand, sun, sand, sun, sand, sun, and Lestat being saved by Marius.  And now… well, now that just seems like a lot of wasted words.

In Old School by Dan O'Shea you can be reminded of past memories, laugh, contemplate the serious side of life, and be punched in the gut when you  read about the lesson one boy learns spending the day with his little brother in  Gone Fishing; a bad medical diagnosis and a side of the blues in Shackleton’s Hootch; remote starters and carbon monoxide poisoning in Pink Cadillac; cookies and Girl Scouts with shotguns in Thin Mints; money, revenge, and organ theft in Hilary’s Scars;  lost love and remorse in The Bard’s Confession on the Matter of the Despoilment of the Fishmonger’s Daughter (say that one three times…); employment woes and sword swinging in Exit Interview;  a grandfather’s final warning to his grandson in Absalom; a retired cop working one last case, and a hot little nurse named Sabrina in Sheepshank; the brutal assault of an elderly woman who knows the art of fighting back in Purl Two; a hit-man, roaches, and final thoughts in Circle of Life; old paintings and past memories in Vera Luce Alla Sua Fonta; the unintentional sacrifice one man brings to a family in The Blood of the Lamb; and the magnetic pull of a woman to a philosophical vampire in What Love Is.  

Honestly, Old School by Dan O’Shea is so worthy of your time… even the forward by Chuck Wendig is deserving of a second read. And, as an added bonus, if you buy Old School and read it to the very end you’ll find a very special offer from Dan. It’s more like a gift. A gift that you'll treasure for years to come.

Old School by Dan O'Shea is published by Snubnose Press and is available through Amazon.

Dan O’Shea is a Chicago-area crime writer represented by Stacia Decker at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. His novel Unto Caesar is currently being circulated to all the usual suspects. His short fiction has appeared inCrimefactory, the Discount Noir anthology, and Needle. You can find out more about Dan at his blog, Going Ballistic.


Ginger said...

I love your blogs where you reflect on your memories--they are the best! I have got to get this collection of short stories. The book sounds great, I can't wait to read all of the stories.

Paul D Brazill said...

Smashing piece of writing. And Old School is on my TRB list, for sure.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Fabulous, thoughtful review of a book I've been meaning to pick up.

Ben said...

I love those reviews, Sabrina. I'm reading OLD SCHOOL right now. Dan's an amazing, very precise storyteller. He knows the nuts and bolts about provoking emotions in his readers.

David Cranmer said...

You convinced me, Sabrina. And I'm with Ben that I love these reviews. Breath of fresh air.