Review: 48 Blitz
by Brett Biebel
Split/Lip Press, 2020 ($16.00)
When I read the book jacket of Brett Biebel’s 48 Blitz, published in December by Split/Lip Press, I knew I was all in before inhaling a single story. The stories that make up 48 Blitz are short and strong. They show that small and rural towns, where Biebel’s often neglected yet loud and original characters live, are places many people should not turn away from, but hope to discover.
A once high school football star who does not wish to be remembered for his years of stardom, a beloved man on death row, multiple born-again-Christians hoping to convert their new companions, are a few of the memorable characters that live within 48 Blitz. The characters and their stories take many different turns, never allowing the reader to predict the outcome or their fates. Yet a voice, strangely comforting and close, rides through many of the stories. It’s a familiar voice. It’s a curious and nonjudgmental narrator, perhaps someone the author hopes the reader will be, too. And it’s in this magical balance of the spontaneous, familiar, and absurd that boils a new excitement with the ending and beginning of each story.
Commendable, too, is the actual narrative—the patience and language Biebel uses to tell each story, no matter the length. He’s not afraid to show. One of my favorite stories is “Platte River Love Song.” Two long-time friends go fishing after a much anticipated local election, bringing two girls with them, although the narrator cannot remember where they had met them. The almost two-page story is mostly scene, with imagery and characterization so vivid I had to read these lines again and again just to make them live longer: “You could hear water hitting the boat, and every time we caught a sunny we threw it into the Dairy Queen bag, on top of about four cans of beer. It would make a sound like a hockey puck, or else gravel spraying your hubcaps. The girls thought we should let them go, but Adler said if you do it for one, you got to do it for all, and they pretended to understand.” On the contrary, Biebel is not afraid to tell. His characters often give the reader the lowdown, allowing an easy understanding of their predicament. This straight-forward telling is in another favorite of mine, “Happy Fish Bait n’ Tackle,” where the narrator goes on a first date with a guy she met online. The opening lines rope the reader in, not only to captivate, but to include us in her finite experience: “…Our first date was supposed to be at the Mulberry’s down State 19, but at the last minute he called and said a friend of his had this softball team short players. He said they had a particular need for women, and I don’t know why, but maybe I liked his picture. Maybe I knew word traveled and wouldn’t Kev be jealous seeing his little Pop-Tart move on so fast.”
The 48 stories are small and dazzling gems, meant to be considered separately, but also part of a whole, a place the characters wear on their backs, in their hearts. If time allows, some readers and writers I know like to consume books in one sitting, understanding the larger idea or picture the author might have been trying to accomplish. But I recommend taking your time with Biebel’s collection. Take tiny bites, let the stories and voices marinate before reading the next. You won’t regret it.