Two Small Birds by Dave Newman
Publisher:Writers Tribe Books
Guest review by Melanie Page
In Two Small Birds, readers are reassured that they will probably fail, despite their best efforts to be “good” when they know they’ve been “bad.” The novel follows 23-year-old Dan Charles as he shuffles between an undergrad degree in poetry plus a few bad part-time jobs, to full-time truck driver. Well, truck driver for a year; that’s all he’s promised his brother John that he can do. Truck driving is the most boring, soul-crushing job that forces Dan to choose between right and wrong and more money versus little money on an hourly basis. He finds that if he takes speed and drinks he can stay on the road longer and make more cash, but he’s nearly dead when he gets three days off, which he uses to sleep at his brother’s apartment. Or, he can eat well, exercise, and stay sober, but then he has trouble driving for ridiculously long periods.
The whole truck-driving career is part of a plan for Dan and John to invest in a wire that other companies won’t carry--it’s expensive, but everyone sells the cheap imitation that has to be replaced all the time. Dan drives truck and saves up money for his part of the investment, and John continues working his crappy on-call job as his end of the bargain. Both know Dan’s job is harder, and tension grows as Dan remembers their childhood when John would lie to get Dan in trouble or beat his younger brother to keep him in his “place.” Here’s where readers start to feel distrusting of John. “Boys will be boys” is a cheap excuse adults use to justify brothers abusing each other, but when does it stop? Is John going to screw Dan over despite them being in their 20s?
The beauty of this novel comes from two places. One is its specific appeal to American ideals: working hard, bootstraps, that sort of thing. John and Dan aren’t part of a get-rich-quick scheme; the hours Dan logs are equivalent of years of working. But the jaded America we live in today tells us that whether John is trustworthy or not, their dream is dead before its up and running. Compared to those who reach out and achieve success seemingly without effort, the brothers are like two small birds trying to survive in nature’s deadly ecosystem. Dan wants to be a full-time poet and reader, but others who work those man’s-man jobs are skeptical of his employability: “You should go to prison,” his landscaping boss advises, “They have a good welding program in prison.” Do we live in a place where prison serves us instead of us serving in prison?
The other beauty of Newman’s work is his attention to people. To capture such weird, unbelievable characters and make them wholly likeable is a feat that no other in contemporary small press author comes close to. Newman does dialogue like nobody’s business. In unfamiliar territory, Dan stops to ask if there is a Chinese restaurant around the area:
The skinny guy said, “Yeah, next exit. Head east. Only place on the road.”
“That’s not Chinese. That’s Korean,” the old guy said....
“What the fuck’s the difference?”
“I was in Korea,” said the old guy.
“...You’ve been bullshitting about car racing like you know everything and now you’re
bullshitting about Korea. You’re a bullshitter. Shut up and watch the TV.”
“My big brother was in Korea for the war. Got shot in the pinky toe.”
“So your big brother was in the Korean War and got shot in the foot and now you’re an
expert on Korea, is that it?”
“I didn’t say I was an expert.”
“No, you said you were in Korea.”
“I misspoke,” the old guy said. “Now I’m going to go out to my truck and get my gun and I
wouldn’t be surprised if it misspoke right in your skinny fucking face.”
For anyone who has been in those “good-ol’ boys”-type bars, you know these patrons. You’ve seen them or argued with them. They’re probably members at your local Eagles or Moose or Elk club. Newman grabs these personalities, rips them off their bar stools, and smacks them on the pages of Two Small Birds. Even the prostitutes are likeable when they’re making you mad. This is definitely some manly fiction with a humanities bent.
Melanie Page is a MFA graduate, adjunct instructor, and recent founder of Grab the Lapels, a site that only reviews books written by women (www.grabthelapels.weebly.com).