Monday, September 8, 2008

Practical Purposes by Yeva Wiest

TITLE: Practical Purposes
AUTHOR: Yeva Wiest
PUBLISHER: Lyrical Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 22k)
GENRE: Gay black comedy
COST: $3.50

The small town of Salem, Texas is not the place to be if you’re different. But when a death in the family forces Dr. James Cole to return, he decides he is not going to do it with his tail tucked between his legs. He’s going to have his partner there at his side for the funeral, even if his father warns him not to bring the “white boy” with him. Too bad his father doesn’t really want either of them around to embarrass him…

Not everyone enjoys black comedy. Some people take offense at serious issues being treated without the respect they deserve, which is fine. Personally, I love it when it’s done well. There is a lot that can be learned by looking at topics from different angles.

Practical Purposes easily falls into this category. It’s small-minded America at its worst, with colorful misfits struggling to fit in and others who have managed to escape. James' father, King Cole – and there are plenty of Ol’ King Cole jokes in this, most of which actually work – is as conservative as they come, and he has never approved of his son’s sexuality. He is bound and determined James is not going to disgrace the family by showing up at the funeral when there will be fourteen black Baptist preachers in attendance. His plan to sidetrack both James and his lover Zach is ill-conceived at best, acted out by a group of the epitome of the narrow-minded American – white, conservative, teenaged boys. The fact that they’re all clearly idiots adds to the absurdity of the entire situation, especially as it barrels at breakneck speed throughout the story.

The characters populating the story are colorful to say the least. Each has its own distinct personality, and even though there are a ton of them, it was easy to tell them apart. There is no single character that controls the lead, as several weave in and out of the telling. In fact, if anything, James and Zach – the two gay men who prompt all the action in the first place – are probably the sanest and most vanilla of the bunch. Considering they’re the outsiders in Salem, it makes perfect sense, and their sensibility offers a wonderful contrast to the likes of Tallulah the dollar store clerk/plumber/lesbian, Donnie the nerd in love with Tallulah, Petey-bird the high school boy with less sense than ears, and Odessa Collins the 84-year-old deceased whose presence hangs over the entire tale.

In spite of such vibrant storytelling, the story gets let down by its editorial mistakes. Headhopping isn’t a minor thing in this; it’s widespread enough to include a scene that starts out with James in a moving car, jumps to Tallulah and Donnie on the sidewalk, back into the car again, then ending hopping between James and his father – all without a scene break. It’s indicative of the style that plagues the whole story. To make matters worse, there are technical issues that really should have been caught – like loose for lose, and the one character who spends half the time with the last name Lawson and the other half as Lawton. It holds back what could have been some biting commentary on homophobia and small town America. For this reader, it ends up being entertaining, but only as a nibble.


6/10 – Headhopping and editorial issues distract from what could be sharp, funny prose


9/10 – Everything is over the top, like most comedy is, but the characters are crisp and distinct


7/10 – Could be offensive to some, and certain areas beg for further explanation, but I was willing to go along for the ride as long as it lasted.

Entertainment value

7/10 – Dark and bold, but the technical things hold it back.

World building

9/10 – I’m not sure how realistic the world is that’s been painted here in its extremes, but I am sure I believed it.



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