in the Cathode Ray Glow: Stories About Growing Up in the 60’s and 70’s
Author: Ray Sikes
One of the most refreshing things in Life in the Cathode Ray Glow is the afterword. That’s not to say that the rest of the book isn’t an interesting read, but author Ray Sikes expresses honesty towards his work as he orders the reader to regard his seeming autobiographical stories as works of fiction. Sikes acknowledges that some names have been changed, but he says the real reason these are works of fiction is because writers tend to embellish or alter the course of events, usually for dramatic reasons or to compress the time frame the events actually happened in.
And yet, even while considering this collection of stories as works of fiction, Sikes manages to connect to his readers through universal feelings and experiences. As someone who was born in the mid-70’s and came of age in the 80’s and early 90’s, I can still relate to the story of “The Cornflakes Submarine.” What kid hasn’t lusted for a toy thanks to shrewd advertising only to discover later that they’ve been had? This is definitely not an experience limited solely to Sikes’ generation. And then there’s “Penguin Pants,” a story which anyone who’s been forced by their mother to wear embarrassing clothes in public will relate to. “Evel Knievel and Me” has two brothers trying to copy the famous daredevil’s stunts, and while we kind of see the ending coming, Sikes makes it an interesting journey along the way.
These sorts of stories occupy the first two-thirds of the book, and the last third is a small collection of random short stories unrelated to the book’s original theme. But even without a real connection to the first section, these stories provide an interesting read. Several of these stories, such as “Roasting the Dead” and “The Prophet of Hurricane Hazel,” are the sort that seem to end prematurely, but upon reflection, the ending fits. I always appreciate it when an author forces me to engage my brain and apply my own understanding to their work. It generally makes for a more satisfying read, just as it does here.
As a prose writer, Sikes writes leanly without a lot of extra, flowery words. However, he is very skilled at creating visual pictures through his descriptions. Add this to his ability to write about subjects that the average person can relate to, and you have a book that will easily hold your attention. My one complaint stems from the fact that Sikes, who is a Christian, doesn’t really add a lot of spiritual insight to his stories. I understand that he is more about telling a story than preaching a sermon, but I would think that his faith would infuse his writing far more than it does here. Aside from about three of the seventeen stories, there is no mention of Christ or even religion in general. But this is a relatively small criticism overall, for this collection is an enjoyable read by an obviously talented writer.
Life in the Cathode Ray Glow is available at Amazon, along with other works by Ray Sikes.
Eric Landfried 2/6/11