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Book review: Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor

Wary of religion, former preacher Minor turns to humanity in his sophomore collection of short stories.

Jay Muhlin

By Kyle Minor. Twelve, $35.

Kyle Minor’s second story collection is packed full of interwoven fictions about characters facing disillusionment in their lives—and their church. A former “junior preacher” himself, Minor’s stories exhibit a marked skepticism about religion’s place in society, from lessons taught to children in Christian schools to sermons that use the idea of “God’s plan” to explain tragedy that inevitably wind their way into nearly every Judeo-Christian funeral speech.

The seemingly autobiographical “There is Nothing But Sadness in Nashville,” in which a preacher-turned-writer reflects on a series of deaths among his family and friends, is the book’s cornerstone. Earlier stories involving suicide, schoolyard bullying and divorce flow seamlessly into this one. Minor’s writing ranges from cheeky observational comedy to frightening surrealism, and his use of several mammoth stream-of-consciousness paragraphs in this particular story effectively ramps up the dramatic tension. Minor, as the story’s narrator, believes people use “empty” words about heaven and God because they must “tell themselves stories about how and in what ways everything means.” Praying Drunk suggests that it’s his characters’ capacity for compassion—rather than any dogmatic beliefs—that offers their best chance for salvation.