Battle Town, by Richard Buxton
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BooksGoSocial. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
It should be noted at the outset that this book is technically a standalone short story, and an award-winning one at that. As a literary short story set in an unnamed small town in Kentucky (one gets a hint of Perryville, but the author is careful to claim that the place and people are all imaginary even if they feel fully realized), there is a great deal of reference to Southern towns stuck in the middle of nowhere as well as the horrors of PTSD, something I am acquainted with . The notes of the author state that he is planning on taking this particular story and others and planning on releasing the anthology this year, which is definitely something I am looking forward to reading. If the author has other stories of the same skill as this one to put together as one work, count me as someone who would be willing to be one of its happy readers. Buxton has a skill with short stories and setting up compelling situations with believable characters in situations that can be easily understood by others.
The story is set up in a straightforward way, as a young woman named Abby–she is particularly insistent on not being called Abigail–works as a local historian struggling with the ghosts of dead soldiers upset at the way their lives and deaths are portrayed, with a war-veteran brother with PTSD as well, looking forward to an escape from her small town that refuses to enter the modern age. The author has a lot of biting things to say about the neutrality of certain aspects of Kentucky during the Civil War as well as the division between the New South and the Old South in how the Civil War is portrayed and how towns deal with modernity. The story is essentially set up as a struggle between a spirited young woman and the past as well as her family and community, which have certain expectations about dressing up and playing pretend in the past. The story has a credible air and a powerful sense of futility, part of a rich and complicated history of literary fiction dealing with the South and the burden of history it carries in the contemporary world.
A good test of a short story is whether it succeeds on its own merits and that it contains people and situations that one would want to read more of. In both cases, this story is a success. I do not know enough about the author and his body of work to know what sort of themes he plumbs in other stories or longer works of fiction, but on the strength of this short story alone he certainly has struck my own attention, enough to keep an eye out for his short stories and compilation. As someone who reads vastly more than my fair share of terrible self-published writing, this is an example of a polished gem that one wants to see published by a large enough publishing house to give it the sort of visibility and honor it would merit. I must admit that do not know much about the market of short stories or collections of short stories given the decline of literary magazines in recent decades, but this is a short story worth a few minutes of time and probably at least a bit more time of reflection on the ways that the situation of the appealing protagonist is not so unlike some of our own backgrounds.
 See, for example: