Mandy Haynes, a Fernandina Beach, Florida, take no prisoners, short story author extraordinaire, busted loose last year with her first collection, Walking The Wrong Way Home, a collection of stories from the put down and the disaffected from the wrong side of the railroad tracks in Mandy’s native Middle Tennessee. Her self published powerhouse of prose was such a hit that it quickly began garnering praise from notable authors and landed her in the sweet spot with an official selection as a Bonus Pick in the vaunted Pulpwood Queens Book Club.
But Mandy ain’t resting on her laurels and letting the kudzu grow around her feet. No, ma’am. She’s come charging back out with another expertly honed and self-published collection, As Sharp As A Serpent’s Tooth: Eva and Other Stories. Hell, I chose the first part of the title as the title for this blog because you just can’t beat it for a title.
If you don’t know Mandy – and I have the pleasure of being a friend and sidekick – let me tell you a little bit about her writing. If you took equal parts Flannery O’Connor, Carl Hiassen, James Lee Burke and Harry Crews, put them in a bottle full of RC Cola with a few salted peanuts dropped in for good measure, and then gave it a good shake, what would come exploding from that bottle would be Mandy Haynes. In fighting form and rarin’ to go again, Mandy sinks her claws into our eyeballs and drags us through that neck of the woods where “polite company” averts its gaze while driving through, but where those of us who had the ofttimes perverse pleasure of growing up in similar places, ride along with her and say to one another, “Uh-huh. Yep. That’s right.” If you’ve never seen a Pentecostal tent revival congregation being whipped up into a dancing, singing fervor by a charismatic backwoods preacher, you are unfortunate. If you’ve never seen that strutting, hollering preacher man reach into a box and pull out a rattlesnake or copperhead, and pass it along like the collection plate, hang on, because Mandy’s gonna shove you into a front row pew with her. If you’re squeamish about such things, tread lightly because Mandy makes it so real you can smell the sawdust on the tent floor and hear the menacing buzz of an irate rattler.
This collection is a tour de force that includes the tale of an enigmatic child named Eva, whose act of retribution against her abusive parents gave even me the heebie-jeebies, a charming, handsome young country preacher with a taste for jailbait who gets caught with his pants down, a furious, rock hurling girl whose deadly aim makes for some rough country justice, and a bow-wielding, fifteen-year-old girl and a flaming moonshiner. It wraps up with a devil-may-care Auntie who sashays into her newly-orphaned ten-year-old niece’s life and proceeds to set the gobsmacked small town folks on their heels with her irreverent speech and charmingly outrageous behavior.
If you follow Mandy around her world, you’ll be on your knees in a creek, digging your fingers under rocks for crayfish, catching salamanders and snakes, giving catty teenage high school girls their comeuppance when they hiss at you because you don’t have a fancy gown for the ball, throwing rocks, making biscuits, taming a wayward boyfriend and all manner of country shenanigans. You’ll get your clothes dirty and your dander up, bust a gut laughing, get so pissed off that you want to slap the taste out of somebody’s mouth and, most of all, have yourself a foot-stomping good read that’ll leave you wanting more. Susan Cushman, author of Friends of the Library, Cherry Bomb and the editor of Southern Writers on Writing said it this way, “It’s the magic of her language, as she uses all the senses to bring the characters in each story to life.” Sonny Brewer, author of The Poet of Tolstoy Park and other novels said, “Mandy Haynes’ writing voice is as smooth as fabled Tennessee whiskey…proves her top shelf life as a writer and gives readers more than they came for.” Brenda Rose, author of Dogwood Blues says,, “Mandy Haynes writes about the poor and damaged, about simple folks with fire and crazy pulsing through their veins.”
Now that’s some pretty high cotton. All this author can add is, “Day-umm, girl! When you gonna write a damn novel about this stuff?” Oh, but she is. But that’s another story for another day.
Read it or weep, folks. And be sure not to step on the snake. It’s hiding around here somewhere and it bites.
You can order Sharp As A Serpent’s Tooth: Eva and other stories from https://www.storyandsongbookstore.com/, https://thebookloftamelia.com/, https://www.pageandpalette.com/, and any place readers normally buy online.