Book Review: If I Knew The Way, I Would Take You Home, Stories by Dave Housley

If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You HomeIf I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home
Stories by Dave Housley
Dzanc Books
2015
174 pages

In the 15 stories and essays that comprise If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home, the likes of Gene Simmons and Jerry Garcia are merely opening acts for headliner Dave Housley.

Yeah.  Gene and Jerry, the ones of KISS and The Grateful Dead fame.

Make no mistake: with writing like this, the real rockstar of these short stories is Dave Housley.

“You show up, play your role, leave it all on the stage, get out of there with a check in your pocket. If you have the right kind of attitude, then you don’t think about it too much – maybe don’t think about it at all, until the next time.” (“Be Gene,” pgs. 3-4)

It’s clear that Housley is, indeed, more than thinking about what he’s doing and his reader. The stories in his third book are the perfect cocktail of sadness, humor, suspense and nostalgia. Set mostly in central Pennsylvania in the vicinity of Altoona and State College (this is terrain that Housley knows well) these are stories about people who have – as the title suggests – lost their way.  They knew it once, or at least they thought they did.

“There are one, two, three, four … thirteen different kinds of lettuce. When the hell did this happen? I almost ask the lady next to me, then realize I look out of place enough with my paint-spattered boots, jeans, and T-shirt, with my fingers covered in drips and drops and my smell of turpentine and all-day sweat. So I stand there like a moron, a thirty-year-old man confused by vegetables, How am I supposed to make the decision – “where we’re going” is how she puts it – when I can’t even pick out lettuce at the goddamned supermarket?” (“Where We’re Going”, pg. 69)

Like any collection of songs on an album (remember albums?) I loved some of these stories immediately and others will need a little time to grow on me. Among my favorites are the aforementioned “Be Gene” and “Where We’re Going” as well as

“Death and the Wiggles”
“Goliath”
“Behind the Music: A Christmas Wish”

“Rockabye” has the best opening two lines of all these stories – and, dare I say, one of the most brilliant choice of words strung together that I’ve seen in any short story.

“We see Daddy on Sundays at lunch. Sometimes Wednesdays , too, from eight to nine, if Mommy lets us watch the reruns.” (“Rockabye,” pg 25)

As someone who still has most – if not all – of her ’80s New Wave cassette tapes carefully tucked in several briefcase-like accoutrements, Housley’s essay “How to Listen to Your Old Hair Metal Tapes” was … well, something I wished I’d written.

“First you’ll need to find the box. Usually this will be a milk crate, sometimes a packing box, a gym bag or a backpack or a few balled up plastic supermarket bags. It will be tucked into the farthest corners available – your basement, your parents’ basement, a car trunk, a storage space, as far away as you can get from your current life and still call something yours. There’s an overly obvious metaphorical thing happening here – literally digging into your past, through layers of stuff you’ve supposedly left behind, blah, blah, blah. Don’t let that stop you. Remember that none of what you’re looking for was particularly subtle in the first place. And if you never wanted to listen to your hair metal tapes again, if you had truly given up on Def Leppard and A/C D/C and moved on to U2 or Coleman Hawkins or Radiohead, you would have thrown the box away….” (“How to Listen to Your Old Hair Metal Tapes” pg. 153)

“There are many things you have not kept hold of – bank statements, receipts, jobs, friends, relationships. The fact that you still have the tape with Def Leppard’s “On Through the Night” on one side and the first Motley Crue on the other but not your tax returns from 2008 or your college roommate’s email address is evidence of something you don’t want to think too much about.” (pg. 155)

“And it will always have that gauze of nostalgia, the soft edge that comes from growing up with something. Desperate as it was to be dangerous and edgy, with its amplifiers turned up to eleven, freak-show mascara and hairspray and pyrotechnics, your old heavy metal tapes are innocent.

Just like you used to be.”  (pg. 160)

Bam.

Like a good drink, If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home is a short story collection best imbibed in small increments, rather than in one binge. Otherwise, there’s the tendency to lose what you like about the drink in the first place and then things start to look and sound the same and then the writer loses their way.

No danger of that here. For those of us who grew up in the ’80s and may have stumbled a bit in the years thereafter, Dave Housley more than knows the way to a great story and takes his nostalgia-happy reader along for a most enjoyable ride.