Ripple Meets the Deep

  • By Jason Tinney
  • CityLit Press
  • 122 pp.
  • Reviewed by Clarinda Harriss
  • November 10, 2014

This collection of short stories is alive with compelling characters and intriguing prose.

What do you get when you combine the work of a fiction writer, poet, journalist, and musician? Ripple Meets the Deep. In it, Maryland author Jason Tinney (who is all the things just mentioned) joins the ranks of the dozens of artists — from Mississippi John Hurt, Odetta, and Rassan Roland Kirk to Bob Dylan and Lucinda Williams — who have covered, in their own way, the traditional blues/folk song “Make Me a Pallet Down on Your Floor.”

“Make me a pallet” is the subtitle of half of the 20 stories in this collection (“Make me a pallet/move it on over,” “Make me a pallet/Wayfaring Stranger,” etc.). These 10 stories record brief sessions in the lives of ordinary folks in a small town.

Along the way, we meet a bluegrass performer who, within three-quarters of a page into the lead-off story, gets poked in the eye by a fiddle bow and subsequently sports an ice-filled, purple surgical glove in this and later stories; an insomniac who totes a tackle box full of harmonicas; and, as naturally as sultry night follows the funky day, the women who love and leave them.

In addition to the colorful array of characters, the book overflows with recurrent objects and images that make it a sort of salty prose poem. For instance, the tackle box referenced above is an essential part of fishing, in both practice and lore, and is a theme found in all 10 stories. In fact, the title of the book comes from a fisherman’s description of where in the water a person should drop the line. 

Tinney’s mastery of dialogue is a standout aspect of this collection. It’s remarkable not only in the tense, life-altering exchanges with which the stories abound, but also in seemingly unremarkable exchanges: “‘Are you feeling all right?’ she said, kissing his cheek. ‘Yeah. I’m fine. Do I not look all right?’”

A lesser listener to the way people really talk might have said, “Don’t I?” The “not” that Tinney uses accurately captures people’s expressions. The main character in the story “Derecho” provides another example when he opens the refrigerator to get the pitcher of iced tea and asks his houseguests, “Anyone?” No intervening words. No positioning. No indicating. We all know what he is saying.

Tinney’s verbal economy is especially poetic — that is, precise — when it comes to imagery, such as “The rain fell like wrinkled linen” and “The yellow jackets bored into his skin, working their stingers as if Ryan was a mad sewing project,” and powerful observations: “His father had not abandoned him — ‘leaving’ and ‘abandoning’ were two different worlds.”

On a sour note — and I would not be the lifelong English schoolmarm that I am if I did not point it out — Tinney, or his copy editors, or both, need to brush up on comma usage. Somebody appears to have gone through every list-like phrase and inserted unnecessary commas. For example, “She removed her red, velvet jacket to reveal a pleated, charcoal miniskirt and tight black, turtleneck sweater.”

This same gremlin also deleted a few necessary commas: “I’m sorry Dad.” Let’s hope for a second edition that is preceded by a bit more proofreading.

Apologies for the nitpicking. This book is actually too good to point out minor flaws.

Tinney’s prose in Ripple Meets the Deep is incandescent and it deserves to shine nationwide. After all, the book’s scope is not hyper-local; be assured that the ice-fishing story does not occur in Greater Baltimore.

Meanwhile, let’s hope as many Marylanders as possible read this book. Long after they put it down, they’ll remember bits such as one non-local’s horrified description of people feasting at a crab house, with everybody “hammering” crabs in a “barbaric…crab-crushing contest.”

Delicious!

Clarinda Harriss is a writer and poet. Her most recent short-story collection is The White Rail. She is professor emerita of English at Towson University in Towson, MD, and the longtime director of BrickHouse Books Inc., Maryland’s oldest literary press.

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