The Graybar Hotel: Stories, Curtis Dawkins (Scribner Book Company)
A healthy skepticism may well be an appropriate response when approaching a book whose author has been incarcerated since 2004 for a drug-related homicide, for which he is serving life without parole, but this surprising collection of short stories is well worth a look. The author, Curtis Dawkins has portrayed, in his fictional accounts of men struggling to keep their heads together, life behind bars in an honest and forthright manner. This is not a collection of brutal misery, though brutality and tedium do exist and are depicted, but rather dimensional portraits of prisoners brought to light by piercing details of daily life and daily hardships. In one story, an inmate places collect calls to random numbers on the off-chance that someone, anyone, will accept the charges and talk to him, connect him to the world, even for a minute or two. In another, a man recently transferred from county lockup to federal prison is unable to overcome the senselessness of his predicament and walks out of line, towards the fence, towards certain death. Dawkins may have to live the rest of his life behind bars, but he has given voice to the voiceless in a profoundly real and empathetic collection of stories that never stray into sentimentality or sensationalism.
As published in the August 3 issue of Arts & Leisure section of Addison Independent.