A good short story collection maintains a common thread, compiling stories as one would compile an album, so that reading it from beginning to end offers a sustained exercise in meaning. It’s satisfying to turn the last page and feel it intertwine with all those that came before it. Sean Beaudoin’s Welcome Thieves is one of the best examples I’ve come across. While the stories range in focus from small town athletes to struggling musicians, from youthful hedonists to back-alley boxers, each one is ready to jump ship.
An album is a good comparison for Welcome Thieves because Beaudoin knows music—he knows what it’s like to want to become (and fail at becoming) a rock visionary. The opening story, “Nick in Nine (9) Movements,” is a hilariously tragic play-by-play of a foolishly spent youth. From the onset, Beaudoin’s prose moves with sharp purpose, refusing to get lost in sentimentality. Beaudoin is a master of emotional economy.
Nikki calls a lawyer, who laughs. Thirty days later he wakes up thirty.
Three decades old.
Might as well be ten.
He hits the occasional open mic, doesn’t mind playing for beer, likes the feeling of a 90-watt spot on his face while a half-drunk softball team talks through the changes.
His best song is called “Rime of the Ancient Silas Marner.”
No one laughs.
There is some disappointment.
But no regrets, because he’s never going to be as good as the tool from the Strokes, let alone Charlie Parker, so why keep pretending?
Tara says he never wants to do anything fun.
Tara says he’s getting fat.
Tara splits after a long talk conducted on two sleeping bags zipped together.
Beaudoin is known primarily as a YA author, with a series of well-regarded books for young readers in various genres that skirt the boundary between YA and adult literature. Though Welcome Thieves is not aimed at his traditional demographic, it’s clear that he feels at home with the crushing disparities between youth and adulthood. “The Rescues” begins with a character named Danny whose high school reputation in lacrosse is built on “his willingness to hit. And be hit.” So much so, in fact, that he earns a full ride to Ohio State. Over the course of a few thousand words, Danny’s life goes forward and nowhere at the same time, a kind of stunted momentum that propels the story.
Sports are a theme in Welcome Thieves—most often lacrosse. In “The Rescues,” Danny sustains a knee injury that renders him unable to play, so he creeps into adulthood as a pizza deliveryman near campus. Strong and good-natured, he floats about with an almost Taoist liquidity, until his attraction to a girl named Steak—yes, Steak—ends up going awry. Many of Beaudoin’s stories tend to function this way. Disappointment is built in from the very first sentence. Welcome Thieves doesn’t provide any emotional arcs where hopes are raised and summarily crushed. The characters simply play the house and win or lose. All results are natural outcomes.
Beaudoin has a soft spot for muscle-bound stars who are fading. Physicality makes his characters sympathetic. My favorite story in the collection, “And Now Let’s Have Some Fun,” is about an aging backroom boxer named Primo and his disintegrating livelihood. The character reminds me of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, a once-tough fighter in a world of underground violence who fights for his dusty reputation against a Charles Bronson type known for quite literally devouring human flesh. Coupled with the unfortunate scenario surrounding Primo’s wife, the story lends every ounce of dignity and triumph that it can to someone whose livelihood comes down to undervaluing his own blood. This is what I enjoyed most about Welcome Thieves. Beaudoin sidesteps remarkable characters with remarkable outlooks, and instead maintains a steady gaze on those who don’t have the luxury to ponder their existence, those who simply break bones.
Writers of adult fiction sometimes consider Young Adult authors (and the adults who read them) unserious, or less important, or disturbed. Beaudoin’s writing—flippant, economical, fast-paced, generous—borrows from Young Adult literature what literary fiction sometimes eschews. It doesn’t balk at the fact that many readers, not just young ones, have short attention spans.
Welcome Thieves is fun to read, and while you’re having fun, you’re able to suffer some tough blows, even a couple broken ribs. I hope to see more ‘adult’ literature from Beaudoin. But I wonder if what I’ll really be reading is the literature of youth, reupholstered for those who might be afraid of it.
Samuel Sattin is a novelist and essayist. He is the author of the upcoming novel THE SILENT END and LEAGUE OF SOMEBODIES, described by Pop Matters as “One of the most important novels of 2013.” His work has appeared in TheAtlantic, Salon Magazine, io9, Kotaku, Fiction Advocate, Publishing Perspectives, The Weeklings, The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, Litreactor, Buffalo Almanack, SF Signal, and elsewhere. Also an illustrator, he holds an MFA in Comics from California College of the Arts and has a creative writing MFA from Mills College. He’s the recipient of NYS and SLS Fellowships, and lives in Oakland, California.