Get Em Young, Treat Em Tough, Tell Em Nothin

Get Em Young, Treat Em Tough, Tell Em Nothin


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Gabi's Review

American writer Robin McLean's collection of short stories has the ominous title Get Em Young, Treat Em Tough, Tell Em Nothin. The collection’s vivid portraits of American citizens are both strikingly realistic and strangely surreal, with a prevailing undercurrent of violence. While all the characters feel an overwhelming sense of control, they are shown as ultimately powerless within the broader society.

The American military plays a significant role throughout the book. There are instances of loss in service, such as the brother in ‘House Full of Feasting’ and the husband, killed on his third deployment, in 'True Carnivores. The title story is particularly compelling: Private Martin is made to do double shifts as punishment for his night-time counterpart abandoning his post. Martin remembers a general who arbitrarily gave young soldiers rifles, and punitively instilled the requisite toughness while obscuring the purpose of their mission. Here and throughout the collection, McLean creates a world shrouded in confusion and deceit about the meaning of military objectives.

While McLean skillfully explores the convoluted, self-serving motives of various characters, her stories also focus on the significance of animals, plants, and even the Earth itself. This ability to look beyond the limited perspectives of the dominant species lends a unique lens to her writing. I thoroughly recommend this collection for its skillful use of language and craft, and for the way in which the darkness of its fictional worlds are tempered by inventiveness and humour.

Publishers Review

Dark, profane, and hilarious, yet ultimately humane, these ten stories are the latest and best of Robin McLean’s reports from the eternal battlefront that is the United States. Ranging across the continent, from Alaska to Missouri, from the flatlands to the mountains, each tale is a snapshot of the political, racial, and sexual undercurrents roiling contemporary life, and each finds a way into the nerves and blood that pulse beneath the question of how to live a decent life.

Here you'll find stolen children living life to the fullest on the run and on the road, soldiers guarding empty frontiers, and rugged individualists brought low by an uncaring nature. You'll find prehistoric beasts rubbing talons with hustlers as well as death machines lurking beneath the bucolic countryside. Here you'll find hatred, friendship, and pitch-black humour all seething in the same stew.

Get ’em Young, Treat ’em Tough, Tell ’em Nothing marries the sardonic moral and political explorations of a Flannery O’Connor to the surreal, scuzzy wit of a Denis Johnson. It is a brazen State of the Union for a nation on the edge.