Four American Tales by Jack Messenger

  -  Four American Tales by Jack Messenger

Four American Tales is, as by title, four american tales woven together by author Jack Messenger. They are four standalone pieces which provide a sneak peek into the writing style of Messenger prior to the release of his full novel. Of the non-related set, I most enjoyed the first and the last short story. I will break my review down by each individual piece within the collection.


Wichega is a tale of Sweetpea and her family of four. It begins with the return of her father to the family following a discharge from the military. You can tell straight away that there is something just beneath the surface but you’re not quite sure what’s wrong. You feel much like the child while you read, like things are being spoon-fed to you, but it is done in such a way that it is not upsetting but only more and more intriguing. Of all of the tales this one was by far my favorite from the exquisite details, imagery and metaphors that Messenger was able to paint to the accents to the ever emerging truths about Sweetpea’s father and where he had really been. This piece was perfectly executed.

A Hundred Ways To Live

Nadine and Earle’s story connected to that of Wichega in the commonality of the criminal aspect. It had a dirty, gritty feel to it, but I wasn’t able to really feel too much for the characters in this one. It was interesting to see the style and tone change by the author which exhibited that he is multifaceted which I give kudos for. There were nice links between the copter in Earle’s dream to the bird circling above. I spent most of the reading waiting for the police to descend upon them – another kudos to Messenger. The characters transferred their paranoia to the reader.

Ballbusters on Parade

I enjoyed the grittiness (the grit the connection to Ways to Live) of Ballbusters as it seemingly came straight out of left field. The first line alone – I’m a stickler for first lines – was so unexpected and jarring that I said to myself, Well, well, well…I had no idea that this particular genre of film existed so that was a surprise for me. What transpired was tastefully done and the loneliness of kind of getting what you want but not all at once was intriguing. What connected Mike and Yolanda ultimately ended up being their unravelling.

Uncle Mort

Uncle Mort unravels the truth. I got the joke a bit before it was revealed but had to stick around to see how Helen came across it and the way that Messenger laid this out was once again sheer perfection. It was interesting to see how complacent Helen had become with her very ordinary life and had found only after the death of her uncle how devoid of love it was. Reading about the longing and sadness between the characters in her past and how disconnected she had become from not only them but also her husband, an individual in the very same living space with her, was sobering.


I give this collection overall a four. I was very impressed with the author’s writing style and look forward to seeing what it is that he pulls together for his full-length novel. Will we see any of the characters that we were introduced to in Four American Tales? Sweetpea and Helen stood out to me in their characterizations, in the heart of their stories, and for what they personally represented to me as the reader. Though I did not feel that connection to the characters in the two other tales they were also well-written and shows that Messenger has the capability of catering his storytelling to a plethora of audiences.