“What I like about Natural Bridge–one of its many strengths–is that it has a sense of humor. The short story “Big Mike” by Darren DeFrain is one such example. In synopsis, the story is anything but funny: an alcoholic is coerced into taking his son to a father/son “Indian Guide” outing. Big Mike, the alcoholic, is the story’s foul-mouthed narrator, and while the reader may not like him, it’s possible for the reader to empathize with him along the way and, even, be amused by his observations. Time and again, as much as I resisted, I found myself on Big Mike’s side, as when he heads out into the Michigan winter morning and observes several fathers chipping a hole into an ice-covered lake: “I’m next,” Marty says from right next to me and he takes his coat off. But he doesn’t stop there. He takes off his shirt, and his undershirt, and his boots and socks and his pants and his underwear. His headband is the last to go and he lays this down on his pants next to his bare feet. His dick looks like a circus peanut in the cold and I can’t believe he’s not embarrassed by it.”
Naked, Marty then jumps through the hole and into the icy water. Big Mike, unable to find anything remotely communal about the experience, thinks they’re all nuts. By the story’s end, however, Big Mike attempts his own spectacle. It’s the sort of ending that I love: there is no dramatic character change, no turnaround, but rather an image, or series of images, that exposes a character’s vulnerability, showing us a dimension we haven’t yet seen, an attempt on the narrator’s part to stake a claim, to make his mark, for better or worse.
Author DeFrain is just one of the many accomplished newcomers in this issue.”
~ John McNally, as reviewed in Literary Magazine Review. Click here for the complete review.