We've Already Gone This Far by Patrick Dacey, review by Shirley Wells
Patrick Dacey uses a Saul Bellow quote as the epigraph to his short story collection We've Already Gone This Far: "The strangeness of life, the more you resisted it, the harder it bore down on you. The more the mind opposed the sense of strangeness, the more distortions it produced. What if, for once, one were to yield to it?"
In this collection of thirteen loosely-connected stories, Dacey doesn't resist the strangeness of life; in fact, he seems to embrace the odd, the isolated, the emotionally-drained individuals who people working-class America today. Yet there is also a sly humor that pervades these sad tales and along with it a hopeful optimism.
Wequaquet, Massachusetts, is the working-class setting of the stories. This economically-depressed factory town now produces sons and daughters who head off to war, as in the opening story, “Patriots.” The townspeople all support the soldiers, especially their hometown kids, but these neighbors disagree about America's role overseas, and one mother's uber-patriotism is easily-recognized as a thinly-disguised shield against her true fears. Her bitter neighbor's impatient disapproval, which propells her to sneak over in the night and steal one of the dozens of small American flags off the front lawn, turns into compassion and friendship after their worst fears are realized. But in addition to heartwrenching emotion, there is a humor that is expressed in pithy, off-hand comments such as this one: “She's a hairstylist—actually a haircutter. She works at Uppercuts, and what they did to my hair once was not styling.”
In “To Feel Again the Kind of Love That Hurts Something Terrible,” a fourteen-year-old son takes his first tentative steps toward romance which awakens in his father the memory of what first love feels like: “Phil imagined that time stopped like that, when you see something so beautiful, something like love. He felt that the first time he saw Mary. Maybe all the years between then and now had been his attempt to get back to that one moment of clarity. But he didn't know where to begin.” Kenny is a smart kid with mental health issues who has been medicated to deal with his erratic—possibly dangerous—behavior. His DUI-prone dad Phil has to blow into a Breathalyzer before he can drive him to meet Fresca at the skating rink for his first date. When Phil advises Kenny that he should be a little late, Kenny is worried she'll leave: “'She won't. She'll hang around just to let you hear about it...then you apologize, and take her hand, and apologize again.' 'I've never heard you apologize to Mom.' 'That's because I don't have to anymore.'” It's in these small touches of humor, especially, where Dacey so brillliantly captures the rhythms of speech. In spite of the emotion and heartbreak of the stories, there is an admirable lack of sentimentality. A father's dying words to his adult son in the story“Never So Sweet” seem to sum up the philosophy of the entire collection: “...there are no coincidences...our lives are strange and never work out the way we think they should...And it's all right...it's better this way.”
In this debut collection, Patrick Dacey has shown us that it IS better this way by giving us hauntingly-strange yet humorous stories that display his powerful but graceful talent and foretell great things for this young writer. We've Already Gone This Far is a 2016 Indies Introduce selection.