“Greetings From Below” by David Philip Mullins (2011) – 167 pages
Can a guy be too honest, too truthful? If so, it might apply to Nick Danze, the main character in David Phillip Mullins’ debut short story collection, “Greetings from Below”. These linked stories revolve around Nick’s lifelong sexual education which is mostly outside of and apart from his established relationships. Nick’s sexuality takes many unexpected twists and turns which make him feel guilty, but there doesn’t seem to be much he can do about it.
Most of the stories take place in Nick’s hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, which is described as the city with more churches per capita than any other and twice the suicide rate. In this story collection, you get an insider’s view of Las Vegas, not only the old casinos, the new Disneyized ones, the assorted sleazy bars, and the swing clubs. You also get to view the spectacular natural scenic phenomena of the area, the desert and canyons outside the city.
“Greetings from Below” is not a cheerful book, far from it. There is a lot of pain. But we’ve all read way too many books where the main characters are portrayed as far better than people really are. It’s refreshing to have a character face up honestly to his dark, offbeat side. This book reminded me of a little known excellent novel from the Seventies called “The Demon” by Hubert Selby Jr. Selby is more famous for his novel “Last Exit to Brooklyn”, but “The Demon” may be his most powerful work. “The Demon” is about a young businessman who could be successful, but is possessed by lust. He chooses his own destruction, is destroyed from within by his self-loathing and spiritual sickness.
There is a lot of self-loathing in Nick Danze. He has a loving girlfriend in Annie, but he can’t get himself to love her back. At the same time as we get Nick’s story, we get the story of his family. His father died of a debilitating lung disease when Nick was still in his teens. This has had a profound effect on both Nick and on Nick’s mother. Nick’s mother goes through a series of addictions, first to shopping, then to gambling, and then to eating. Nick rushes back to Las Vegas ostensibly to help his mother with her addictions, but usually winds up feeding his own addictions. During these trips back to Vegas, Nick leaves Annie to fend for her self.
“Greetings from Below” is the winner of the 2009 Mary McCarthy Prize in short fiction.
If you are looking for a bright cheerful book, do not read “Greetings from Below”. If you are looking for a powerful book of stories that is honest and real, you might consider “Greetings from Below”.