Sam Burnham, Curator
Under the shadows of a global pandemic, social unrest, political strife, and an economic downturn James Calamine released The Road the Hell, his latest book from Snake Nation Press.
Previously I have reviewed his works Insured Beyond the Grave (volumes 1 & 2) which mostly followed non-fiction dispatches and articles that highlighted pieces of American culture.
This book is a bit different. 100 pages, including the author’s photography, makes for a shorter read than the previous works. As with Insured Beyond the Grave, the photography tells as much of the story as the words do. The pictures settle in your mind and set the mood as you read. The images stir a sense of nostalgia while the narratives prey upon that emotion.
This is a work of fiction, a collection of short stories. They are really more of vignettes, some even essays. Through these stories Calemine holds up a mirror for our society, particularly in The South, to get a good look at ourselves. Calamine drops us into the challenges we face as a people. He puts real faces on the dark corners of our existence. He makes us look at ourselves. I’ve often said that Southern Gothic is such a powerful art form because it’s not far removed from reality. Calemine blurs that divide beautifully.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. In several places the light shines in the darkness. Some stories are lighter, touching on the everyday. Hope is not lost. Among the virus, depravity, horrible decisions, corruption, and outright sin we can see answers. It becomes obvious where the mistakes are made. If we know the mistakes, we can fix them.
The best part of the book lies in the brevity of the stories. Each one is enough to stimulate thought. The stage is set, the action put into motion, and then the reader is left to their own devices. Your imagination takes over, your soul gets engaged in the matter. Each story is a type of warning and Calemine serves as an oracle. Do we continue down the road of greed, lust, selfishness, and vengeance while technology, anger, substance abuse, political strife, or apathy wreck the world? Or do we reach back to our virtues and ideals? I found myself thinking of Independence, thrift, stewardship, private property, political liberty, family, marriage, parenthood, neighborhood - values that make appearances but, as in reality, not often enough. It is obvious that their absence is the source of so many problems.
Calemine has chosen this tactic in a brilliant way. The reader has to engage the story. Passivity is not an option. To read these stories is to become a part of them yourself. There are familiar faces waiting behind each page. You will probably even find yourself in there.
It is not rare to find a book that is good - entertaining, interesting, and engaging, but that isn’t really an important book. The Road to Hell fits both descriptions. It is an excellent fit for the reader who is prepared to be challenged and therefore changed by what they are confronted with. It’s a book the world needs right now.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire