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Tuesday, May 2, 2023


San Francisco cable car straddles Broadway, the dividing line between
Chinatown (foreground) and North Beach (top).

--Cantina Psalms (Part 1] is set in near-future San Francisco, the most eastern city in the west. If you can handle Boston, Chicago, NYC, Philly or DC then this droll, mostly gritty collection of urban short stories will take you home to your familiar streets, cold water flats and imposing penthouse aeries. 

Mainly, this big roster of characters spends the novel dodging rain and each other. It ends with a shot to the chest. In Cantina Psalms, you’ll find the near future is no different from today or yesterday populated with dark streets, family love, bittersweetness, friendships, crime and high-rent/low-rent love stories. It’s an ethnic salad tossed around Nob Hill and North Beach. But like life, sometimes the threads don’t connect. 

The joy of this first novel by a West Coast newspaper reporter and magazine editor is the journey. Delivered in black and white tones that capture the pathos and poignant humor of its denizens via tale after tale. Cantina Psalms echoes voices of those who find romance in the ruins and those who have failed and those who stay and fight. 

Funny, sad, erotic, gritty and filled with quirky love and genuine brotherhood, these short stories remind us basic human goodness endures no matter what cable car we take to get there. 


Cantina Psalms is author Thomas Shess’s debut novel, and I’ll tell you this: Mr. Shess colors outside the lines. His command of the city of San Francisco—its patois, its bars & restaurants, its neighborhoods, its power brokers and guttersnipes—is commendable. His characters simply jump off the page and slap you in the face. The omniscient narrator is a rascally character in his own right, a linguistic sorcerer who is adept at jeu de mots as he would be picking your pockets. The vibrant characters, the mercurial action, the author’s delicious wordplay—traversing this novel was, for me, a truly guilty-pleasure.” 

 --By Eric Peterson, author of the “Dining Car” and “Sunshine Chief.” 


Typical author promotional photo taken in Paris in a coffee house along Rue Cler that has nothing to do with the action in the novel.

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