Two young men, one bi-racial and the other white, meet in an overnight lockup and begin their shared twenty-year downward spiral into alcoholism and homelessness. LeRoy and Harmon work together, drink together, brawl together, and as Harmon suffers from his final illness, they both bed Edna, a wealthy widow who, out of pity, curiosity, and loneliness, takes them into her vacation home by the river. Through episodes rendered from shifting, multiple points of view, a series of flashbacks, and LeRoy’s adventure stories―this very smart but uneducated man’s attempts at fantasy writing―we learn of the people and tragedies that shaped their lives and those whose lives unravel along with theirs at the seams of race, class, and religion, and where no one ever quite tells the truth.
James Carpenter began writing fiction after an eclectic career in education, business, and information technology, including a position as an affiliated faculty member at The Wharton School. His short fiction has appeared in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row, Fiction International, and North Dakota Quarterly. Three of his stories were nominated for the Pushcart Prize and he is a recipient of Descant’s Frank O’Connor Prize.
The author takes on the underbelly of the American dream in this gorgeously gritty narrative. Hang in there with the non-linear approach to the storytelling that may be disorienting, but only at first; i.e. it works. This is grim terrain, unflinchingly observed, while also managing to be a romantic testament to the human spirit. I'm not sure how the author pulls this off but it has to do with the respect and devotion (dare I say love) he has for his cast of "losers"--their inner and outer worlds accepted on their own terms. No Place to Pray is a romantic take on the American Dream that even homeless and addicted have-nots partake in and interpret. Despite exactingly rendered "evidence" to the contrary, they never once lose their dignity. -- Sharon Black