John Mantooth's Shoebox Train Wreck is a unique, startling, moving collection of genre-twisting stories that play out in those shadowed places that linger as the sun goes down. These stories happen in the marginalized, dark nooks and crannies of life that most folks only dare look at out of the corner of their eyes, if at all. Some of the best stories are:
"A Long Fall Into Nothing", in which an unhealthy, symbiotic relationship spirals down to its only, inevitable conclusion. "The Water Tower", in which two friends embark on a journey and find something more horrible and sadder than the dead "alien" they'd been looking for.
"Walk the Wheat", a touching - and eerie - story in which brotherhood bonds stretch past the grave. "This Is Where the Road Ends", a story about a man who can't let go of his guilt...and also can't bring himself to admit it to the one he loves. "Saving Doll", an especially wrenching story about a high school track star trying to free herself from her family's squalid destiny, but to do so, she must face a shocking betrayal, rather than run from it. "The Cecilia Paradox", in which the future may be televised, or apocalyptic, or staged...or all three. "Chicken", a story about a boy pretending to be fearless, and the boy he meets who really does fear nothing. Or, perhaps everything.
The three best stories are "Sucky", "James" and the collection's title story, "Shoebox Train Wreck." In "Sucky", a boy with special needs discovers that his greatest fear will deliver a kind of mournful, partial salvation. "James" is a wonderfully non-linear story about those individuals - or, maybe, that same individual - we encounter throughout life who never fits in anywhere, and eventually fades away. And "Shoebox Train Wreck", a story in which a man's grief and sadness holds back more than just his own life.
The best thing about this collection is despite it's shadowed nature...it's not needlessly grim. Often, collections like these boast stories ending in despair and pointlessness, offering no resolution of any kind. That doesn't happen here. These stories feature broken, confused, wandering souls. But many of them find a kind of resolution or peace, or, at the very least, discover the hope of such peace. And that lifts this collection above many others.