There are nice drunks and there are mean drunks, and all the drunks in RETRIBUTION: Stories by John Fulton are nice drunks. They accidentally blind children by putting too much chlorine in the Y pool but they go home and set the table for dinner, hoping for some mercy. They scream at their kids on the phone but ultimately don't make trouble for their ex-wives when the wives sell off their antique cars in place of alimony payments. They take their kids skiing and invite friends to dinner. In short, they mean well. And they all try to escape retribution.
Fulton lives in a world that was once inhabited by Raymond Carver, but it's not quite as depressingly low-down as the latter's world was. Sure, some of the stories take place in winter but the cold is a thrilling, enticing cold where skiing is fun. Sure, there are plenty of divorces, deaths, illnesses, and drunken episodes, but somehow it's all part of the ever-spinning wheel of circumstances of everyday life. Fulton never lets us forget that these people are us, our friends, our neighbors. They don't exist to enact some moral turpitude on our intellectual selves, but rather to entertain us with their strange lives and not-so-strange misfortunes.
John Fulton is working on a novel, and that makes me hopeful for the state of the novel today. If his clear and concise writing and wry wit, as exhibited in this collection of stories, is novel-worthy, then he will rightly take his place alongside such small-town guy writers as Richard Russo and Richard Ford, who mine similar territory. However, Fulton, perhaps for his youth, perhaps by his nature, prefers humor and, with that, will gain more fans than some of the other sadsacks in his genre.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on July 6, 2001