Cheyenne Madonna

Jan 20, 2011

Occasionally a short story writer comes along whose stories are as roomy and absorbing as good novels. Eddie Chuculate is such a writer. In each of the seven stories in his wonderful premier book, "Cheyenne Madonna," Chuculate treats us to seductive, ornery, winsome characters muddling along in the messy business of living.

This is a linked collection of stories featuring one central character, Jordan Coolwater. Like Eddie Chuculate himself, Coolwater is from Muskogee, Oklahoma, a member of the Creek and Cherokee tribes. With an artist's eye for detail, Chuculate draws the reader into natural landscapes and into the emotional landscape of his characters: Here's a sentence from the opening of "Dear Shorty," where Coolwater, in a rented room in Maine, learns his beloved but drunken father is near death a thousand miles away. "What a lonely feeling that is, at the edge of the earth, the edge of your hopes, to look out over a balcony as a spooky nighttime fog creeps in, and not be able to see the water but only hear it, hear it boil to a hushed roar, then release."

And here's Shorty, the drunken father: "My dad is the only person I know who could get drunk three, four times a day. Dad would start out with the shakes, red-faced, then be happy and talkative after a few drinks, hitting his stride, then be completely wiped out with a face that looked melted, then pass out all in a matter of a few hours. He'd wake up after about an hour or so so-so sober, shaking, wanting to know where his bottle was."

You might think a guy so deep in the bottle would be the perfect villain. I mean, young Jordan goes to the refrigerator looking for breakfast and finds a note and a six-pack: "Liquid lunch, ha, ha."

But Shorty's not a villain. There are no villains in this collection not the spooky guy who stalks his girlfriend in one story, not the girlfriend who sets the stalker up to do hard time. Chuculate reveals his characters at their worst, but also at their best.

Chuculate's stories are tough, tender, full of heart and humor. I've read this collection twice. I'm looking forward to reading it again.