Damned If I Do
Damned If I Do is a short story collection from critically acclaimed American writer, Percival Everett. While originally published in 2004, this book has only recently been published in the UK and includes an introduction from British short story author, Irenosen Okojie.
My favourite stories of the collection are the first one (‘The Fix’) and ‘The Appropriation of Culture’. In ‘The Fix’ an owner of a sandwich shop (Douglas) takes in a stranger (Sherman) who possesses a fascinating ability to fix anything he sets his mind to, whether that be a fridge, a set of crooked teeth, a failed marriage, or even bringing a person back to life. This story is very much open to interpretation and I’ll let those who want to read it make their own minds up, but personally it reminded me of Biblical stories I’ve read, particularly those from the New Testament. At one point Sherman explains the consequences of fixing things he shouldn’t: “You have to be careful about what you fix...If you irrigate a desert, you might empty a sea.” Like Jesus, Sherman is unable to say no to those in need of help and in turn sacrifices himself.
In ‘The Appropriation of Culture’ we meet Daniel Barkley, a university graduate/amateur musician who has recently inherited a substantial amount of money following his mother’s passing. Following an incident in a bar whereby a group of white men mockingly yell at him to play ‘Dixie’ (a song that was widely used in minstrel shows), Daniel decides to reclaim the Confederate flag as his own. He buys a truck which has the flag in its back window and reimagines its meaning as one of Black Southern pride, rather than white supremacy - much to the confusion of those around him. Overall, this story was by far my favourite in the collection: the plot and writing were so sharp and I think it perfectly demonstrated Everett’s satirical sense of humour. I couldn’t have asked for more from this story.
I think (and hope) that this collection will be popular with a lot of people. I believe that fans of the Weird will enjoy the uncanny feel that features in a lot of these stories. I also think that people who enjoy reading about places will appreciate the strong sense of the American South that you get from reading Damned If I Do (Everett himself grew up in South Carolina). These stories are quiet and understated, but to the astute reader they can also spark thought-provoking discussions about race and class which provide the undercurrent to a lot of Everett’s books. This makes for a rewarding reading experience that will keep you wanting to return to his work time and time again.