Title: Shirtless Men Drink Free
Genre: Literary Fiction
Author: Dwaine Rieves
Publisher: Leapfolio/Tupelo Press
In Shirtless Men Drink Free, Doctor Jane Beekman has seen her dying mother’s soul, a vision above the bed—a soul struggling with a decision, some undone task, something in this world too noble to leave. The question that lingers—why?—prompts a shift in the doctor’s priorities. In this election year, Jane must do what her mother, an aspiring social activist, would have done. Soon, Jane is embroiled in the world of Georgia politics, working to make sure her dynamic younger brother-in-law Jackson Beekman is selected the next governor, regardless of what the soul of the candidate’s dead father or that of his living brother—Jane’s husband—might want done.
Indeed, it is a mother’s persistence and a father’s legacy that will ultimately turn one Beekman brother against the other, launching a struggle with moral consequences that may extend far beyond Georgia. Set amidst 2004’s polarizing election fears—immigrants and job take-overs, terrorists in waiting, homosexuals and outsider agendas—Shirtless Men Drink Free makes vivid the human soul’s struggle in a world bedeviled by desire and the fears that leave us all asking—Why?
Engaging, beautifully written and resplendent with realism, Shirtless Men Drink Free is a standout debut destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned. A meticulously crafted tale that showcases an outstanding new voice in Southern fiction, Shirtless Men Drink Free has garnered high advance praise:
“This is brilliant and rare work, as attentive to an absorbing plot as it is to a poetic, chiseled cadence."—Paul Lisicky, award-winning author of The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship
“These characters are all too real. Rieves, as Faulkner, McMurtry and Larry Brown, writes people and story that will worm, burrow into you. Change you even.” —Adam Van Winkle, Founder and Editor, Cowboy Jamboree
“Vividly sensuous, this novel is full of textures, sounds and smells. Rieves tells a terrific story with the sensitivity of a poet.” —Margaret Meyers, author of Swimming in the Congo
About the Author
Dwaine Rieves was born and raised in Monroe County, Mississippi. During a career as a research pharmaceutical scientist and critical care physician, he began writing poetry and creative prose. His poetry has won the Tupelo Press Prize for Poetry and the River Styx International Poetry Prize. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Georgia Review and other publications.
If pressed, she just might someday describe the experience as a vision, but that word alone would be insufficient, if not false, for what she had seen above the bed was more than apparition, more than a visual thing. There, sitting beside her dying mother, she’d sensed another presence, a new being, energy membrane-bound, translucent and hovering, alive in the air. The sense was volatility, the struggling with a decision, a choice—most definitely a choice—more why than when, more God than science. There, fibrillating above the bed was a soul. It was her mother’s soul, the very soul of her mother deliberating its only options: whether to stay or depart, this world or another. And in the instant before it abandoned its literal form, whatever her mother’s soul accepted or denied had to have been better than the body below, the face still puffy from chemotherapy, that halo of resurrected hair.
Something else must have mattered in this world, some undone task or rethought decision, something noble in the making, for her soul clearly wanted to stay. But it couldn't. It simply couldn't.
Perhaps revelation would eventually prove a more credible label. Or insight. Regardless of what she might ultimately call it, she wanted to believe the whole episode was a lesson for the scientist within her, a gift for the daughter who had to make sense of the inexplicable she’d seen. No. No one would ever believe she had witnessed such agony above the bed, the struggle between what the body demands and the soul needs.
Such thoughts she knew she must keep to herself, that vision or revelation or insight from a few months back, the soul of her mother wrestling with the air.
Tonight, Doctor Jane Beekman is alone. She sits on the back porch at home, a rocking chair helping to hold her there. The sky is closing in yellow, the world that was almost gone. She is motherless now, the backyard calm in disbelief. In the wake of her mother’s final breath, in the air that struggle―why? The question will never disappear and the more she stares, the more the world before her eyes darkens any possible answer.
The air is unsteady, too uncertain. It trembles as if still above the bed, as Jane saw it and forever will. That odorless instant when decision turned gunmetal thin, she will smell it always. The distance between struggle and release, its clamor breathed clean. That morning her husband held her mother’s hand, but never did Price waver, never did his eyes leave the body. Her mother’s soul had battled the air and Jane, she alone was the witness.
Her body demands a reason. Her soul needs more gin.
Never had she given much thought to politics, never had she pictured what a brief speech might come to. But to understand that trajectory as she ultimately came to follow it, you must first step back a few months, take a determined breath and stand with Jane before a plateau of silvery eyes. The titans have gathered, gawkers shoulder to shoulder, a certificate framed on a tripod far stage right. The words have power, authority—2004 Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year. Lights are low, God and the crowd focused. The podium is all Jane’s, the first slide at her back. On the canvas, a ladder of DNA coils ten-foot-high in Christmas colors. Five-carbon sugars twinkle for emphasis. Base pairs stiffen then jitter like ill-tempered brothers. Finger the laser pointer’s bump and the hot red dot jumps. Control goes with accomplishment. Smile.
Jane is on the stage because she and her husband Price accomplish great things. She is proud of this. Atlanta is proud, no doubt all Georgia. But this award is not about her or Price, she tells the crowd. It’s about their baby, CellSure. It’s about the company’s birth and maturation, teamwork in translational science. She uses that word translational and thinks transcendent. They know what she means. “People, CellSure is a company that can take less than a nanogram of genetic material and in a matter of hours match the specimen to a criminal, a fraud, a father.”
More than once Jane says “genetic material” and each time she sharpens the syllables. “Yes,” she proclaims, “with less than a snippet of tissue CellSure can even diagnose—” She pauses for air, for the air to settle. “Yes, we can even diagnose cancer.” Applause comes. The great polynucleotide pulses. People stand. They point. Jane has become one with her company. She can even diagnose cancer.
“And with more CellSure innovation, I have little doubt that the same tissue indicating a cancer will also identify a treatment. Yes, my friends. The CellSure technology that pairs a precise diagnosis with a precise therapy will make most cancers curable and the few incurable ones truly treatable conditions.” She thrusts a decisive finger into the air. She is transcendent. “Mark my words—as CellSure pairs ingenuity with our city’s fine medical research institutions, Atlanta will become the nation’s go-to hub for hope, a city where the word impossible never crosses a lip.”
People whoop and stomp their feet. They slap shoulders. Strangers hug. The air vibrates, every face catching the glow of the great iridescent molecule, the image secured by the clicker Jane controls with a single finger.