Brian Jabas Smith is a recovering meth addict who played in a bunch of bands. He’s also a reporter for the Tucson Weekly. Tucson Salvage is a collection of his columns from that free weekly, focusing on residents of that city who don’t often get much time or coverage: a legless dialysis patient, the operator of a late night hot dog stand, a young woman paralyzed in an auto accident who then put herself through law school, dozens of others.
Smith’s writing in Tucson Salvage is a delicate balance of reporting and pathos, never going too far in either direction. He’s interested in his subjects, spends time with them, becomes involved in their lives—sometimes uncomfortably as his addiction threatens to rear up. He feels kinship with the underrepresented because of his own subterranean travels. As such, he never casts judgment, despite his affection for the subjects of these many standalone essays being at the fore. A few steps in a different direction and he might have been in the same spot.
Due to the confines of newspaper column work, economy is necessary, as is innovation: readers won’t return to repetition. His prose throughout is crisp, occasionally dazzling, and never self-congratulatory. Smith’s eye for defining details translates easily into description which catches personality and setting with a few deft words. Subjects as disparate as custom bike frame designers, long distance couples trucking, and rug weavers are instantly familiar once described.
One of the joys of being a book critic is the arrival of a completely unheralded release which delights. I have no idea how Tucson Salvage found its way to my door, but I’m glad it did. –Michael T. Fournier (Eyewear Publishing, eyewearpublishing.com)