Sunday, February 17, 2013
Button Man, by Joseph D'Agnese
I have said before that my favorite stories tend to have at least one of three characteristcs. Either they have brilliant basic concepts (like last week's example), or they have surprise endings, or they have what I call heightened writing. Heightened writing means that the language does something more than merely carry you from the beginning of the plot to the end.
And that is what stands out about this story for me.
He was a nice guy to know, for all his bigness. He knew how to make animals out of folded paper, and his name was Happy Phelan.
The nickname arose from many things. His round baby face. His strawberry nose. Those huge hands. And, no doubt, his colossal innocence. How he got the lieutenant bars I'll never know.
Frank, the narrator, meets Phelan in the army. In civilian life they both wind up working in the garment district. Frank moves ahead but Phelan, despite the advantage of having a father who owned a company, had a handicap: that innocence and a sense of justice that makes him unable to ignore or forgive the greed and graft that makes the world go round?
Will he adjust to reality, or will it break him?
"I should have been a cop," he said quietly. "I wanted to, years ago. My old man said it was a dirty business. I don't know why I listened to him. Is this any better?"
A gripping tale.