Review of Steve Passey’s In Line At Walmart With All The Other Damned by Francois Bereaud

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Bending Genres Presents, Microviews, News, Reviews

Steve Passey is from Alberta, Canada, a place I take to have lots of space and relatively few people. In his remarkable collection, In Line At Walmart with All the Other Damned (Cowboy Jamboree Press), Passey manages to give us both the intimacy of lives lived hard and the loneliness we might expect in an such an expanse. There are fourteen stories in this collection, each taking a look at the pain, sorrow, regrets, and, sometimes, hope brought to us by Passey’s characters.

Feel sorry for a stray dog with a limp.

In the title story, we meet a fifty-year-old man who, for reasons unknown, no longer works. He scrapes by and shops at Wal-Mart. On his way to and from, he meets a neighbor. Though they appear to have lived next to one another for some time, we sense a distance in the relationship, two souls in physical proximity yet emotionally as far away as the expanses of the Canadian prairie. His neighbor’s troubles stem from a burst pipe, damaging her possessions, in particular her wedding album with her long since divorced ex. She can’t get the insurance adjustors to recognize its value and pay her accordingly. The man displays some empathy but ultimately has nothing to offer her.

Feel sorry for a ten-year-old kid at school with no lunch and no lunch money.

In “Shrine” we meet a man bereft after the suicide of his son, a combat veteran. He ceases his life’s primary activity, the creation of antler mounts which take up the better part of a large barn. With his work come to a halt, he is ready to give them all away. When the story’s protagonist arrives to take a few, he acknowledges the old man’s pain. “I’m not sure what to say but I’m sorry for your loss and I wanted to say so.” The old man responds, “Thank you for saying that … People come and people go, but they don’t know what to say, so most say nothin’. I appreciate your kind words.” Here, with his straightforward prose, Passey gives us a deep moment of real human connection between two men, both of whom understand suffering.

Feel sorry for a fifty-year-old man working for a commission that’s less than minimum wage.

Passey’s stories also take us into the outdoors and the interplay between humans and animals. We meet a housecat who has several run-ins with a coyote, a man who vows to track and kill all bears to avenge the death of his nephew, and an animal shelter with the task of killing unwanted dogs. Passey handles life and death, both human and animal, with a masterful touch, neither shying away from the physical brutality nor becoming overly sentimental. His spare prose allows the reader to find their own emotions and alliances in the stories.

            Feel sorry for that woman with a black eye. She has two children under three and her bank card has just been declined at Wal-Mart.

The collection is a quick read but the characters linger. We expect to see them at the bar, in a diner, or in line at a Wal-Mart. They’re people we know, and, at times, some we wish we didn’t. Passey is a keen and empathetic observer of humans and other creatures, shedding light in dark places. Grab this collection and wait for his next.

Note: the italicized lines are Passey’s, from his poem titled, “For All of the Suicides on Christmas Day.”

To order Steve’s book:

Pin It on Pinterest