“From Black Water”
“The South of France on a Budget”
“Bartow County, September, 1864"
“Next in Line, Please”
“First Lady” is Rogers’s first story (of seven planned) on the theme of self-sacrifice; “From Black Water” is his second. A brother’s death leads to some sort of epiphany for the protagonist (“you” again), but the nature of the epiphany is unclear, the few clues confusing. The protagonist takes his brother’s death harder than a brother ordinarily would. Guilt is thick here, but the self-sacrifice? I don’t see it.
In “The South of France on a Budget,” a longer piece, Riley tells his brother about his and his wife’s trip to Provence. The centerpiece of the conversation is a boring story about a towed car—a story made marginally less boring by the offering of a dollar bill. This one is more a character study than anything else: Riley comes through loud and clear. If Rogers has more going on than that, I missed it.
“Deception Café” is a clever story about a café whose name makes its patrons doubt the truth of everything. Is the coffee real, or chicory? Is the waitress some sort of mermaid? And that man with the golden eyes, what’s his story? The beginning and ending tie together neatly, allowing the reader to join in on this game of distinguishing fantasy from reality.
Third in the self-sacrifice series, “Bartow County, September, 1864," concerns drastic measures taken by the Union to flush out a killer, and the willingness of one teenager to give his life to save another man’s family. The story core is the boy’s willingness to give up his life, but not his honor. As with all of Rogers’s best stories, much goes unstated, and one gets the sense of a novel itching to break free of this tiny form.
“Next in Line, Please” is Rogers’s fourth self-sacrifice story, this one about the end of one life and the beginning of another. The sacrifice theme isn’t too prominent here, but the story is nevertheless concentrated and poignant. Mostly, it speaks to the urge we all feel to leave a positive mark on those who remain behind after we’re gone. I found it effective and thought-provoking, the best of this lot, and one of Rogers’s best since I began reading him last May.