Debris by Kevin Hardcastle

Read in August 2016

3 of 5 stars

In his first collection of short fiction, Kevin Hardcastle writes tough and terse as he explores depths of human wretchedness and hardship rarely encountered in mainstream fiction. The action here takes place on the extreme margins of ordered civilization: on isolated country lanes and rutted forest trails, on exhausted farmland and in small towns where legitimate employment is hard to come by. Hardcastle’s characters have often been pushed by circumstance to the limit of their endurance and are depressed or desperate or both. The cast of characters includes criminals and cops, farmers, self-destructive alcoholics, mental patients, and one MMA fighter. These people hustle and fight for a living and sometimes just to stay alive. They get up early and go to bed exhausted. Along the way they might hurt someone or break a law or two, but it’s all for a good cause: putting food on the table and beer in the fridge. Boozing and violence are endemic. Hardcastle writes in a style that mimics a country drawl. He is able to pinpoint the meat of a scene in very few words. In this book the reader will encounter bleakness and ugliness on every page. Everything in these stories is worn out, busted or falling apart. That the author is able to engage our sympathy for people who have been raised outside the law and for characters who inflict the worst of their problems on themselves testifies to the power of the writing. A couple of stories fall prey to what seems like willful obscurity, in which style overwhelms substance. But Debris remains an impressive and original debut by a supremely gifted writer.