When you crack open Tell Everyone I Said Hi (2012, The University of Iowa Press) the first short story you will encounter is just a page long. It’s a scene, really, of one more incident in an assumed litany of transgressions in which the family’s black sheep narrowly escapes death, and of his brother is forced to silently witness it all. And while the reader, along with the characters, is left breathless and unresolved at its close, it is a perfect introduction to this collection by Chad Simpson. The worlds he has crafted are lit with sepia tones and his characters are extraordinary in their ordinariness; the stories of their lives littered with “if onlys” and “maybes.”
In these 18 narratives Simpson assumes the voice of unsure young boys and lonely old women, of men fresh out of college and young girls coming to terms with sexuality. He floats in and out of these host bodies with deft skill and without judgment, capturing the nuances of their private lives and the weight of their most inner thoughts with such precision, you’ll develop the habit of looking over your shoulder to make sure he isn’t observing you in order to capture your idiosyncrasies as well.
The majority in this collection are micro stories, only a page or two. It is in the slightly longer works, though, that Simpson’s voice really shines. In the outstanding “American Bulldog,” for example, a widow fantasizes ways to dispose of the dog she abhors, but a shift occurs when she is reborn in a full-immersion floodwater baptism. In “Peloma” a factory-working father aches in sympathy for his daughter in the wake of his wife’s death. Like the stories that surround them, these are not particularly upbeat stories, but they are also not devoid of hope. These are people who have been beaten down, but they have not lost the capacity to rise again and to flourish.
Winner of The John Simmons Short Fiction Award, this gathering of narratives is sincere and true. I saw myself in these pages and you will too.