San Francisco Review of Books

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Book Review: ‘Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups’ by Andrew Joyce

Florida author Andrew Joyce took a leaping chance on providing follow-ups to an American classic Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in his books RESOLUTION and REDEMPTION and MOLLY LEE – and oddly enough he succeeded! Joyce is an inveterate hitchhiker and doubtless that lifestyle has supplied him with the rich imagination he so freely offered in his book YELLOW HAIR that explores the history of American Indians. Now he turns to dreams and other diversions in his new book BEDTIME STORIES FOR GROWN-UPS.

Andrew sets the tone in his author’s note at the beginning of the book – ‘The short stories contained herein are a mixture of fiction and nonfiction. My hitching adventures are true, as are the ones about three women who had a profound effect on my life: Ellen, Maryanne, and Joanie. I can attest to the story entitled Treasure being factual because I was there. There are three historical pieces, Belinda Mulrooney, Massacre, and Turkey Shoot, that are based on facts. The Danny narratives are also true, but written from a perspective different from mine. However, Dead and Wise Guy are pure fiction.  The fiction stories are a jumble of genres.

My intent was to keep things interesting for you. I must tell you, I never thought any of these stories would see the light of day. I wrote them for myself and then forgot about them. If I had known that one day they’d be published, I might not have been as honest when describing my youthful misdeeds. In the hitching tales, I use my real name, Billy Doyle— Andrew Joyce being my pen name.
While collecting the content for this book from my writings over the years, I envisioned my readers sampling my prose a little each night before extinguishing the lights and drifting off to a restful sleep. I sincerely hope that you will enjoy my stories. It took a lot of living to come up with the material for some of them.’

Given that entre we are ready for a mixed bag of little tales and an attempt to review the entire collection would be an opus nearly equal to the original. But despite the varying classes of tales within, one aspect of this book stands out clearly – and that is Andrew Joyce’s gift of writing. A snippet from one story follows:

‘The car had continued forward as I was doing my little ballet, and as I lay prone on the ground, all I could see were the red tail lights slowly receding into the fog. Then my heart jumped straight into my throat. The brake lights came on, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the white backup lights came on immediately thereafter. I did not wait around to see what further mischief Teddy Bear had on his mind. I raised myself to a standing position and took off in the opposite direction. Remember, I was seventeen, and like all seventeen-year-olds, I was in top condition. I was a quarter of a mile down the road before I even realized I was running. Having covered such a fair distance, I thought it might be safe to stop a moment and see if I was still being pursued. I turned to see those g*****n taillights still slowly coming my way. I could not make out the outline of the car through the fog, but those lights seemed to be the red eyes of a demon that would not be satisfied until I was run to ground and devoured.
As I stood there contemplating those red orbs, I became cognizant of my folly. Staying on the road was a mistake. Teddy Bear could follow me at his leisure. There sure wasn’t any other traffic to impede his amusement. If not for the lights, I wouldn’t know his location, which also meant he could not see me. That son-of a-bitch was toying with me! He must have thought that, with nothing but swamp on both sides of the road, I had nowhere to go and he had ample time to catch up with me. That pissed me off, though not enough to confront that oversized knife. As I pondered the best course of action, I wondered if I was the first of Teddy Bear’s playthings. Had he done this before? Did he indeed throw dead bodies into the swamp, never to be seen again, as he’d told me he could do with my deceased carcass?
Well, there was only one thing to do— get off the road and into the swamp. When you’re running for your life, you don’t sweat the little things, such as snakes and alligators. I turned to my right and proceeded to the tree line, which lay about fifty feet from the road. I could not see the trees, but I knew they were there, having seen them earlier in the night before the fog thickened.’
That is the quality and veracity of the stories to come.

Style is a consistent factor, truth is also there, and imagination permeates the entire collection. Read them slowly – and enjoy.

Grady Harp, September 17
Editor’s note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp.


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