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You and Me and the Devil Makes Three (Esquire's Fiction for Men)

Published by Esquire on June 5, 2012; distributed digitally by Open Road Media

The first installment of Esquire's "Fiction for Men" series -- available exclusively as an ebook -- only partially fulfills its mission, described as publishing "the type of original short stories men love to read -- plot-driven, immediate, essential, and impossible to put down." I think men (and women) love to read good fiction, whether plot-driven or character-driven, but even by Esquire's narrow standards, only two of the three merit attention. Those two, however, make the volume worth reading.

The title story, by Aaron Gwyn, is written in spare prose that suits a spare idea: a young coke user has a harrowing experience and, months later, finds himself in a room filled with lawyers and the family members of a murder victim. The story is written in the second person, a technique that rarely works, but my more significant complaint is that the scant power generated in the middle section of the story is wasted. The story's final scene is pointless and utterly unrealistic.  (Not recommended)

In Jess Walter's "Big Man," the middle-aged members of a spectacularly unsuccessful recreational league basketball team decide to recruit a big man to play in the post -- the boyfriend of a team member's ex-wife. The story is peppered with intelligent humor but it's also poignant in its exploration of a man who confronts the end of a season -- not a basketball season, but a season of his life.  (Highly recommended)

"Young Man's Blues" by Luis Alberto Urrea is a slice of a young man's life. He makes a daring decision to do the right thing but there will eventually be a price to pay. Characters have strong, believable personalities and the tension in the story's second half is palpable. (Recommended)


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