This first book of poems by a writer who has also published a number of much-admired short stories strikes me as a bravely unfashionable book. It is a welcome one in the face of the sometimes tired descriptions and excessively private voices in the prevailing "poetry of nuance." What makes Huddle's poems different is the narrative that informs them; taken together, they tell the story of a boy growing up in a rural community in the '50s, of his family, his friends, of what he sees and hears as he delivers the newspaper to the townspeople, a cast of fascinating characters. For Huddle, memory is a kind of sacrament, rescuing people and places and events from insignificance, and this makes for a wonderfully outward poetry full of real speech and real people, vivid detail and emotion deeply felt and truly rendered, as in this passage about burying his grandfather: It was sunny and cold, but I didn't feel anything, I was like something cut out of a sheet of tin, and then I saw my father take off his glasses, doing what I'd never in 30 years seen him do, and swab at his eyes, and I felt a hurt snap through my whole body, wanted just for that instant to plunge down with him into that grave, going down into black dirt, keep going down with him the rest of my life.
Paper Boy reads like prose but has the quickness and illumination of poetry, marking Huddle as an original and distinctive American voice.