Roadhouse Blues, by Malin James: a review

Roadhouse Blues isn’t just an outstanding collection of erotic shorts, it’s one of the most impactful, heartwarming books I’ve read, in any genre. The residents of Malin James’ fictional town of Styx, in the American South, are vividly alive, their voices as real as our own.

Malin isn’t afraid to explore taboos: our desire for what we know is ‘wrong’, for violence as well as softness. And, she shows how grief and violence mark us – that we bear scars on the inside, as well as those visible on our skin.

Her characters’ dialogue flows seamlessly, revealing to us their inner struggle and their hopes. Malin reminds us that our sexuality is woven through our identity, and that, without it, our stories cannot be fully told.

Contradictions are at the heart of this storytelling, showing that many of the things we yearn for have the power to damage us. Malin shows us the bittersweet and the beautiful, as in Marlboro Man. Her stories have humour, and they’re hot as hell; I adored Down and Dirty, and Krystal’s Revenge Fuck. I love every inch of this collection.

Roadhouse Blues by Malin James jpgWhen authors move us, it’s because they reveal to us our own truths. They show us the best and worst of humanity: our jealousy and possessiveness, as well as our capability for love. In Roadhouse Blues, Malin James explores what we fear and what we desire. She brings us all this, and more.

Malin tells us that her stories always revolve around her characters. “Some, like Mick in Roadhouse Blues and Sarah in Love in the Time of War were inspired by specific people I happened to see walking down the street,” she explains. “Most of the rest are amalgams that pulled themselves together in my subconscious. I’ve always been a people watcher—I’d much rather observe than be the center of the action (I’m a serious introvert). People are endlessly fascinating to me, and observing people first hand kicks up a strong kind of empathy.”

“It sounds really boring, but most of my ideas come when I’m alone and very quiet. I get a lot of nudges when I’m running, or meditating, or awake late at night (insomnia). They usually come in the form of characters or questions, though images prompt them too. If I’m engaged in too much externally, they flutter away, but if I’m very, very quiet, they stay long enough for me to touch them, and then the story goes from there.”

“Saying that, I listened to a lot of early jazz and blues when I was writing the collection. More generally, I tend to go with Bach and medieval choral music, though Miles Davis is a mainstay too. Unless I’m editing. When I’m editing, I do best when there’s nothing but quiet so I can hear the rhythms in the words.”  Meanwhile, Malin drinks huge amounts of tea, which she finds helps her to concentrate. “Not the caffeine per se, more the having of it.”

As to her favourite characters from the collection, Malin loves Maybelline, from Marlboro Man. “Temperamentally, she’s deeply self-contained, but also emotionally vulnerable, in a way that breaks my heart a little. She was one character that came to me almost fully formed. I also love Krystal from Krystal’s Revenge Fuck. I’m not sure I’d ever actually want to hang out with her because wow, she’s a handful, but her intensity and sheer engagement in life are incredible. She was so much fun to write. So. Much. Fun. And Sam, from Good Love. I’ve gotten very attached to Sam. She’s so strong, and resilient, and healthy, and caring. I suspect she and I will see each other again at some point.”

Good Love, without a doubt, was the hardest to write. The recovery aspects were very, very hard and came from a deeply personal (and yet hopeful) place. There were a number of knife edges I had to walk, not least of which was the process of my own recovery from trauma. The Waitress was difficult too. In fact, it wasn’t clear to me where the center of the story lay until the very last couple of drafts. Vanessa’s healing came very close to mirroring my own, and I danced around that for a long time without getting too close. They both challenged me in a cathartic way. Writing them was hard but I’m very glad I did it.”

“I learned about sex from books. Anne Rice, Ian McEwan, Jeanette Winterson, Sarah Waters, Anais Nin and, most pivotally, Angela Carter. These authors introduced me to something new – deeply personal narratives that knowingly walked the line between the mundane and profane. They were my  first introduction to the relationship between sexuality and the psyche – between sex and the self – and it’s that relationship that I keep coming back to again and again.  That is what fascinates me – how people relate to each other, and themselves. Sex can be joyful, painful, wholesome, filthy, simple or profound. If people are the subject, then sex is the lens.”

As to what’s next for Malin, she says, “Something different, I think. Though I’m honestly not sure. I put so much into Roadhouse Blues that I haven’t been able to see past it yet. I’ll probably give myself a little quiet time and space. Whatever comes to me out of that quiet, is the thread I’ll end up following.”

Malin James Roadhouse Blues erotic fiction short stories

Welcome to Styx—a blue-collar, American town where people can do whatever they like, so long as they don’t advertise. From a 1950s diner to the back of a rocking Camaro, the stories in Roadhouse Blues reveal sex that is by turns romantic, raw, triumphant, and desperate. Meet two women grieving the same man, a bartender looking for anything but love, and a hot, brash newlywed who knows she married a cheat. The local garage is run by a kick-ass woman who gives as fierce as she gets, and the strip club is a place full of whiskey and smoke, where memories are exposed as easily as skin.

Malin James is an essayist, blogger, and short story writer. Her work has appeared in Malin JamesElectric Literature, Bust, MUTHA, Queen Mob’s Tea House and Medium, as well as in podcasts and anthologies for Cleis Press, Sweetmeats Press and Stupid Fish Productions. Her first collection, Roadhouse Blues, is published with Go Deeper Press.

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8 thoughts on “Roadhouse Blues, by Malin James: a review

  1. Thank you for this review! It puts into words what I could only feel. I love the little insights shining through in your interview. They add even more depth to a really impactful and heartwarming book.

  2. Thank you for this beautiful review, Emmanuelle. It’s a huge compliment to have this collection read with so much care and consideration. It’s the best thing a writer could possibly hope for. I appreciate it so very much. xxx

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