60-Second Critic: Spit Baths

Spit Baths
By Greg Downs
(University of Georgia Press; $24.95)

History lurks in this debut short-story collection by West Philly's Downs, winner of the Flannery O'Connor award: “The Hired Man” is a revisionist take on Washington's winter at Valley Forge, while “Domestic Architecture” features


Spit Baths
By Greg Downs
(University of Georgia Press; $24.95)

History lurks in this debut short-story collection by West Philly's Downs, winner of the Flannery O'Connor award: “The Hired Man” is a revisionist take on Washington's winter at Valley Forge, while “Domestic Architecture” features a house with an eerie past. “The Field Trip” is a slide show through a lifetime of poor decisions (though it may all be a dream). Downs writes with a Southern twang, and handles interracial romance frequently and delicately, as in “Black Pork,” with a white teen resisting a black neighbor's advances. Themes and symbols tend to recur: State lines spell betrayal; kids are in the care of grandparents. But there's immense heart to Downs's quirky but controlled storytelling, spiked with such observations as, “Truth, that's just a four-letter word, with another letter added on for bad luck.” Grade: B+