Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings (Vandalia Press, 2011, 168pp.)
In his analysis of this work, Philly.com’s reviewer Frank Wilson states that “To call John Michael Cummings’ Ugly From the Start a collection of short stories would be imprecise. It is really a suite of short stories adding up to a novel.” Whichever way you choose to see it—as a novel of episodic pacing or as a collection of short stories linked together—Ugly to Start With is an absorbing work. Set in historical, tourist-plagued Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, we follow the life of teenage Jason Stevens, beginning with “The World Around Us,” (a misadventure that introduces Jason’s desire to be an art student) and “Two Tunes,” where we meet Jason’s gruff, gun-collecting father. Seven more stories follow before the collection concludes with the sexually charged chapters of “Carter” and “The Scratchboard Project,” each which describe Jason’s first tentative sexual encounters with both a female classmate and a middle-aged man (here, Cummings choses to imply the action rather than blatantly “show” it). Using local detail and colorful characters, Ugly to Start With paints a portrait of life as only Jason Stevens knows it. In all, a good read for those who appreciate the methodical approach of psychological fiction.
Click on cover for image source.