For those who know anything about West Virginia history — or even just those who saw the John Sayles movie — it might be hard to find anything funny about the Matewan massacre, the shootout between miners and coal company guards that left 10 people dead in the Mingo County town in 1920.
But Ron Ebest did his best this year. His novel from earlier this year, “The Dave Store Massacre,” takes the (very) basic story of the Matewan shootout and transports it to a modern-day retail environment in Missouri. The result, according to one reviewer, is a “riveting dark comedy.”
The Dave Store is named after its founder, Dave Blandine, who’s known equally for his ruthless business sense and his huge glass eye (he’s so cheap he uses a marble). His huge stores all across America sell everything — “from lawn mowers to Pop Tars to wine-cask sized jars of dill pickles,” according to the publisher’s book description.
In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jeremy Kohler wrote:
Ebest borrows names from Matewan’s major players, but he doesn’t force them to follow the parallels to real-life events. Instead, he winds them up with booze and pot and sexual desire and lets them wander, in some cases switching roles altogether.
Kohler also notes that the title is accurate; there’s a lot of bloodshed in the book. But he seems to think that Ebest pulls it off:
It takes some skill to make this work as a comedy, but Ebest’s characters are so complex and finely drawn that we feel their anguish and their joy.