New 5-Star Review for The Man Who Talks to Strangers
November 22, 2019
Exceptional storytelling by an exceptional writer!
Description: Caleb Pirtle III has traveled down many back roads and dead-end streets during his writing career as newspaperman, magazine editor, and author. He collects people. More accurately, he collects their stories. Some call him a writer. He calls himself a thief. He says, “I steal their stories, write, and publish them.”
He has written a memoir of sorts about many of those whose paths he crossed – from the down and out to national celebrities, from country music stars to death row inmates, from hitmen and lawyers to farmers who struck it rich when the oil fields broke the Great Depression that gripped East Texas.
You will find a mesmerizing collection of the famous, the notorious, the unknown. Pirtle’s stories will make you laugh and cry and feel good about mankind. Some are hard-edged. Some prick and warm the heart. He says, “What happens is never as important as the people who make it happen,” and those in his memoir are not easy to forget. As one reviewer said, “His writing reads like short stories of literary fiction. They’re not quite like anything you’ve read before.”
Pirtle believes his whole life has hinged on one simple fact. He’s the man who talks to strangers wherever he happens to find them.
My Review: “Exceptional storytelling by an exceptional writer!”
I’m sure that Caleb Pirtle has written millions of words working as an award-winning reporter, travel editor for Southern Living Magazine, editorial director, and author of more than 65 published books. And I’m sure that he’s made every word count when he wrote those millions of words. His writing is clear, concise and exceptional.
When I was reading this memoir, I wasn’t only reading stories, I was right there, meeting people and reliving events that span the author’s lifetime. For example, I knew the depression was a tragedy, but it came alive as I read Pirtle’s accounts. The one I’m quoting from recalls a despairing time and place in Texas. It was a time that expressed what his parents and others went through.
“Happy Hollow was kind of a no-man’s land. Rain. Mud. Squalor. Heavier rains. Thicker mud. Cold rains that soaked to the bone. The hungry cried. Women grew weary, then sick. Men gritted their teeth and endured. Babies died, the brother I never knew among them.”
Throughout the book, my writer’s blood stirred as I read Pirtle’s accounts. They’re poignantly written and put the reader in the middle of whatever is happening. I read with bated breath and even anxiety when Pirtle described a 1930’s oil rig on its last leg and the driller’s determination. The man was at the end of the end. People thought him a fool, a fool who’d spent every last dime and more trying to drill an oil well in a place where there wasn’t supposed to be oil.
“The Daisy Brandford No. 3 was drilled on grit and desperation . . . . The rotten drill pipe twisted off once, twice, then three times, and three times Laster used his wall hook to skillfully fish it back out. . . . The machinery had been patched together, and it coughed and sputtered and threatened to die with each turn of the drill bit. The firewood was green, the smoke thick. The pipe broke.”
The story has a successful conclusion, and Pirtle sums it up quickly and to the point.
“That night, the color of East Texas changed forever. It became the color of oil.”
Pirtle’s descriptions throughout are amazing. I love how a storm is portrayed in one of the chapters.
“The sky was a lead gray and turning the color of charred ebony. Lightning tore ragged holes in the sky, then left the gathering clouds to bind the wounds.
His descriptions of places can capture a town’s history in a few sentences. This one’s about Shafter, Texas.
“Miners . . . were looking for paying jobs. Most found their graves. Graves didn’t cost a lot in Shafter. Hard work killed some of them. A few died in the heat. The Rattlers got their share. Disappointment tracked down the rest. Nobody ever came to stay for very long in Shafter, Texas.
“The Man Who Talks To Strangers” is an account that spans a lifetime of experiences. These colorful stories about people and history are varied. They’re seen at eye level and can feel very personal. Sometimes they’re exciting, sometimes tragic, sometimes beautiful, and always beautifully written.
If you want to experience a close up look at Texas and the South, Pirtle’s stories reveal a behind the scenes look at humanity in all its splendor and all its flaws. But most of all, the stories speak of a people’s strength, determination and a passion that endures throughout the good times and the bad. Very highly recommended!