Shrapnel: Short Stories
James Lloyd Davis
Available in soft cover and Kindle editions
James Lloyd Davis’s Shrapnel is a well-written, engrossing, and entertaining collection of nearly 50 short stories. True to the book’s title, most of the works in Shrapnel are stories spanning a few pages at most. Indeed, some of them appear, at first glance, to be fragments, shrapnel-like moments of life shaped into fiction or prose poems. Yet, they stand on their own as individual stories.
Many of Davis’s short stories have appeared in literary magazines in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. One my favorites in this collection, “Standup gigs in zendos make you cry,” spans a mere page and a half, yet its ending made me laugh outloud, and I’m still chuckling as I recall it a few days later. The book’s opening story, “Knitting the Unraveled Sleeves,” is much longer, a dozen pages, and it is a powerful tale of love, fate, and the will to survive. It was published in the anthology Best New Writing 2013 and selected for an Editor’s Choice Award in this Eric Hoffer Award collection.
Confession: I knew James Lloyd Davis back the 1960s, during the early days of the Vietnam War. We served together on the same ship, the destroyer USS Higbee (DD-806). I knew him then as “J.L. Davis.” I was a petty officer third class and one of the ship’s ten radio operators who worked around the clock in shifts of three, with a chief radioman allegedly supervising us. Davis, also part of the radio gang, was a year or two younger than me. He was a two-stripe seaman apprentice also known as a “radio striker.” His main job was to carry typed-out radio messages to the ship’s officers and get them read and signed. My job included operating several different radios, sending and receiving messages via Morse code or radio teletype and handing Davis messages to carry up to the ship’s bridge or down into the “officers’ country” living quarters. During the ten months before my enlistment ended, we spent a lot of time in dangerous waters with the Seventh Fleet off the coast of North Vietnam and South Vietnam. And there were a lot of urgent radio messages flashing back and forth between the White House, the Pentagon, the U.S. Seventh Fleet, and even our small, expendable ship.
I already had intentions of becoming a writer someday, and I had taken a couple of journalism classes in high school and during my disastrous freshman year in college (after which I went on active duty from the Navy Reserve). It turned out that James Lloyd Davis knew a lot more about writing than I did. I still remember him quizzing me about the writers I had read, particularly Ernest Hemingway. I had to confess that I knew a few famous authors’ names, but realized I was woefully unprepared to discuss any of their books or their writing styles. After my enlistment ended, I returned to college and lost track of Davis and other crew members. But I never forgot that encounter: You can’t be a writer without being a reader. I became a reader and writer and have had a decent, if unspectacular, career writing newspaper stories, magazine articles, poetry, books, book reviews, and screenplays. Via the Internet, I managed to get back in touch with some of my shipmates, including Davis, a few years ago while writing Dark Signals, a memoir about my time aboard DD-806. I haven’t seen him since 1965, but now and then, we still exchange an occasional message. He lives in northeast Ohio, in town of Cuyahoga Falls.
Thanks for challenging me those many years ago, J.L. Of course, I do have to grin a bit now when I see these words in your short story “Being Che”:
“Maybe Hemingway got it wrong, a disillusioned old man, a suicide walking when he changed your life with his words…and perhaps you were wrong to listen.”
Holding your book and also thinking back on all that I have gotten to do, I’m very glad I listened…to you both.
— Si Dunn