August 31, 2012

Book Review: Five Skies, by Ron Carlson

Reviewed by David Abrams

Three men stand at the edge of a remote river gorge in Idaho, about to begin work on a summer construction project: a large wooden ramp at the lip of the canyon, built for a motorcycle stuntwoman who plans to jump the canyon, a la Evel Knievel.  The three men are relative strangers to each other, but before the summer is over, they will bond in ways none of them could have predicted.

That's the sum total of Ron Carlson's first novel in thirty years, Five Skies.  It's a beautiful, patiently moving narrative about the value of hard work and the way flawed men come to grips with their personal demons.  Each of these three men are running from something: the gigantic man-of-few-words Arthur Key, who used to build collapsible sets for movies and who can't shake feelings of guilt over a recent death; Darwin Gallegos, the former ranch-hand at Rio Difficulto, where the men are building the ramp, and who won't let go of the pain of his wife's death in a plane crash five months earlier; and Ronnie Panelli, a nineteen-year-old petty thief who is trying to mend the error of his ways.

The men are each, in their own stoic way, trying to heal themselves by plunging into a summer of hard labor.  Arthur, for instances, reveals this to us early in the novel:  He told himself he was trying to regroup, to get a grip, but he now knew, after this time away from the life he had ruined, he wasn't doing a very good job of it.  The bulk of the novel demonstrates how three tough but sensitive men go about untying the knots that bind them to past sorrows and mistakes.

Amid the hairy navel-gazing, the methodical work of engineering goes on unabated.  Save for a few trips into the nearby town of (aptly named) Mercy, the action is confined to the job site on the wind-swept plateau.  Even here, Carlson finds poetry in the muscular world of construction, filling Five Skies with precise details of the labor and materials involved in building a structure that will, in essence, be a one-shot wonder.  Here, for instance, is one paragraph planted early in the book when Arthur goes shopping at the local hardware store:

He had a list in his pocket and he began assembling the items:  wooden stakes; heavy twine; steel hinges; two hundred yards of the rope; a one-inch tempered steel drill bit; forty-yard-long dowels, diameter one inch; a basket of steel fittings; boxes of wood screws; bags of brads; a roof stapler and staples; five gallons of wood sealer; five gallons of white enamel; spray enamel, white, black red; coarse-bristle paintbrushes; four paint rollers with extension handles; ten bags of posthole mix; five gallons of creosote; and a shopping cart of miscellaneous small tools, including chisels, a rasp and a fine Stanley wood plane.

The novel is a literary blueprint of work, the diary of one summer of sweat and sore muscles.  The men carefully clear brush from the site, dig post-holes, hammer sheets of lumber together, and smooth asphalt for the runway.  They are proud of their work but are always reminded that it's just a job and that soon the summer will end and they will drift away from the site and, most likely, from each other.  There is one particularly telling scene when they travel to the other side of the canyon and look back on the half-built ramp:

Key was sobered by the panorama, and the vastness smothered his notions that the project might succeed.  It was one thing, and a good thing, to secure a rail or build a step, but under the pressing sky and against this thousand-mile wind, and across the red and violet vacuum of the rocky chasm, every nail they'd pounded seemed a waste of time.  The three men stood in the soft sand near the lip of rock in their sunglasses and looked across at this little jobsite.

“Amid the hairy navel-gazing, the methodical work of engineering goes on unabated.” 
The physical labor may take center stage, but it's the personal growth of each character we're most interested in.  Carlson unfolds those revelations little by little, not playing his whole hand all at once.

These characters, these men, are kind and patient with each other—something you don't typically find in the predominantly cynical fiction of today.  This is wholly refreshing to read and lends Five Skies a sweet but melancholy air that lingers even after you've set the book down and gone about the rest of your day's business.  Arthur, Darwin, and Ronnie are guaranteed to stay with you for a long time, that's how magnificent a job Carlson has done in creating these three men.

The wind-swept plains of Idaho will also be burned into your imagination.  There are beautiful, compelling scenes—especially one in which the men descend into the canyon on a fishing trip—that have the power to take your breath away.  Here is a passage that's typical of the way in which the land resonates into the story:

They had woken to the sky a perfect trick, a magnified color well beyond cobalt.  Tangible and tender, the air and the earth after the rain seemed minted, some rare promise in the leverage of the early sunshine.  Rags of mist stood twisting in the atmosphere.

Those sentences also point to one of the novel's minor flaws: a complicated syntax that often calls attention to itself and reminds us that a writer is at work, sweating over these sentences as he pounds them into place.  Those moments are few and far between, however, and Five Skies succeeds best when Carlson relaxes and lets the story proceed transparently and without interference.

Carlson uses metaphor subtly and effectively, knowing just when to slip in an image that will echo beyond itself.  Arthur, for instance, is initially disappointed that the project is a motorcycle stunt ramp and he tells Darwin, “I was really hoping this would be a bridge.  That would have been more than I could chew, but I was hoping.”

The whole book, really, is about three men searching for ways to span the emotional chasms that have, in various ways, isolated them from the rest of society.  Here, in the high Idaho plateau country, they will do their best to overcome past mistakes; some will succeed, others will be cut short by new tragedies, but the point is that they're trying.  They are men at work on their souls and it's a testament to Carlson's talent that he's able to make this inner journey as exciting to watch as any high-octane testosterone action movie.

This review was originally published in January Magazine.

Reviewer David Abrams is the author of Fobbit, a comedy about the Iraq War (Grove/Atlantic) that Publishers Weekly called “an instant classic.” His short stories have appeared in Esquire, Narrative, Salamander, Connecticut Review, The Greensboro Review, The Missouri Review, The North Dakota Review, and other literary quarterlies. He earned a BA in English from the University of Oregon and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.He retired from active-duty after serving in the U.S. Army for 20 years, a career that took him to Alaska, Texas, Georgia, the Pentagon, and Iraq. He now lives in Butte, Montana, with his wife. His blog, The Quivering Pen, can be found at: (Author photo courtesy Lisa Wareham Photography.)

Buy Fobbit at IndieBound or at Amazon.

August 30, 2012

Interview with Gregory Spatz

 Gregory Spatz unearthed his family history of Arctic exploration, starvation, notoriety, romance, and publishing as he prepared to write his latest novel Inukshuk. There’s a little lead poisoning, cannibalism, and other intrigue wrapped in the stories about that distant branch of his mother’s relatives.

Talk about having material to draw on.

But Spatz doesn’t simply present a new novel that has drawn praise from the likes of Karen Joy Fowler and a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. A fiddler who plays with two bands, he also recorded two songs to accompany Inukshuk that book purchasers can download from his website at no charge. And the book earned him a 2012 NEA Literature Fellowship.

Spatz has taught in the creative writing program at Eastern Washington University for the last 15 years. He also is author of two other  novels, Fiddler’s Dream and No One But Us, as well as the short story collection Wonderful Tricks. Spatz has a new short-story collection coming out early next year titled Half as Happy. And he has a list of publishing credits and writing accolades that run from Glimmer Train to the New Yorker.

Native Home of Hope recently interviewed Spatz to find out how one goes from violin to pen, when to admit you’re a writer, and additional details of his notable family history.

“The most rewarding part of teaching writing is sharing that pleasure and excitement with student writers. And then seeing them grow as writers – seeing them suddenly break through into better work.” ~ Gregory Spatz

Why did you switch from teaching violin to writing?

I wouldn’t say that I “switched.” I taught violin to pay the rent before I made any money as a writer or teacher of writing. It was a really decent way to make a living – easy to keep it part-time and still make enough money to stay afloat; low stress, and no take-home work. It left me a lot of time and energy for writing. Sometimes I miss those aspects of teaching violin.

But I didn’t like the instability. Violin lessons are anyone’s lowest priority – so if money gets tight, the lessons stop. If things get busy, no practicing happens. The students who were serious and invested in getting better were a blast to teach, and many of them became good friends. Too often I found myself either worrying about my income, coming up short, or falsely encouraging people who hadn’t done anything and weren’t making progress, just so they’d keep coming back and paying me. I hated that – finding different ways to say “Good job” every week. I never intended to make it a lifelong thing. My long-term plan was always to start publishing and eventually find an MFA teaching job. I don’t regret that, but I wish I would have appreciated how low stress teaching private violin lessons is by comparison with teaching at a university.

What was the most challenging aspect of that transition?

Finding a teaching job.

What was the most rewarding?

Feeling engrossed in a story and doing a good day’s work. The other stuff – prizes, publications, words of praise – is also rewarding, but not as deeply satisfying. The pleasure in that kind of reward evaporates quickly, I find. I still like it and need it, but it doesn’t do nearly as much for me as being lost in the work and plugging away at it.

The most rewarding part of teaching writing is sharing that pleasure and excitement with student writers. And then seeing them grow as writers – seeing them suddenly break through into better work.

Do you prefer to be identified as Greg or Gregory?

When I was first getting started as a writer I made this decision that when I started publishing I would use my full legal name Gregory. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was to protect and define that part of my professional life – distinguish it from my music career and day-to-day life. Gregory would be the writer, Greg would be the guy I was the rest of the time. People who I played music with didn’t know anything about my writing, and vice versa. So the name separation helped keep that straight. Now basically everyone I know calls me Greg, and everyone I know is in on both my music and writing lives. Still, it looks wrong to me if I see anything in print relating to my writing life with the name Greg attached to it. Looks amputated or something. Not mine. And if I’m on stage playing and someone introduces me as Gregory I feel like I’m suddenly at a legal hearing or expected to give a reading.

Why didn’t you tell people you played music when you were writing?

I needed to be taken seriously as a musician. I was already younger than most people I was working with, which could be a challenge as far as getting work, so the last thing I needed was for them to have any notion that I was some kind of hobbyist. Among full-time, gigging musicians there can be a bit of a prejudice against players who aren’t in the game 100 percent.

Also, it was just too much trouble and too complicated to explain. I didn’t want to answer all the usual questions – no, I don’t write romances; no, I don’t write mysteries, sci-fi, or horror; I haven’t read The Bridges of Madison County, etc.  And I had no publications to point to, so maybe the real truth is I just felt too unsure of myself to be comfortable explaining what I wanted to write and why.

That all changed as I started getting a foothold in my writing career, publishing stories, and simultaneously started focusing more exclusively on playing only music I liked rather than playing any and every gig that would pay. As my focuses shifted, I learned that the bluegrass polymath is actually pretty common and soon I found myself in a scene – this was in the San Francisco Bay area – surrounded by people who were readers, thinkers, many of them college educated with professional careers in fields outside music who were also very serious about music.

I do still sometimes find myself in musical situations where I can see right away there’s no point in mentioning that I also write books. So I don’t. I don’t keep it a secret, I just don’t mention it. And vice versa. Bluegrass can be just as specialized, obscure, arcane, and generally misunderstood in the wide-world as literary fiction, and sometimes I find myself in situations with writing/editing people where I know it isn’t going to be worth mentioning or trying to explain what I play or why. And that’s fine too.

~ ~ ~

A musical interlude 

Gregory gave us permission to post two of his original compositions. For more information, go to his website.

“Lancaster Sound”  this original instrumental by Greg features John Reischman and the Jaybirds: John Reischman on mandolin; Jim Nunally on guitar; Nick Hornbuckle on banjo; Trisha Gagnon on bass; Greg on fiddle. It was written on a cold winter night in the midst of research about the Franklin crew. In August, 1845, sailing from Baffin Bay into Lancaster Sound, Franklin and crew met up with a whaling ship. This was to the be their last known encounter with other Europeans.

Click here to play “Lancaster Sound.”

“Lady Franklin's Lament” features the world-music folk quartet Mighty Squirrel: Caridwen Spatz on fiddle and vocals; David Keenan on National guitar; Nova Devonie on accordion; Greg on bouzouki. The melody has its roots in a traditional Irish fiddle tune of the era (1860s), “The Croppy Boy,” and the lyrics are from a popular broadside, also from the era.

Click here to play “Lady Franklin's Lament.”

~ ~ ~

Do you write music?

I’ve written lots of instrumentals. I’ll go through periods where I’m coming up with a new tune every other day. But never songs with lyrics. I think this is because I always hear music in my head while I’m writing, oftentimes stuff I wrote or played on. The notes in my head generally feel as if they’re informing the words on the page, secretly imbuing them with some feeling. And vice versa: often while I’m playing I’ll be working through scenes in my head, thinking about characters or recollecting the emotional residue of a scene. By the end of the process the music will be so interpenetrated with the feelings from whatever I was writing that for years afterward, permanently even, I can’t separate the two things – can’t play or hear a particular song without recollecting all the feelings and details of whatever scene I was writing, can’t re-read a passage without hearing those notes in my head.

Putting actual words to my own music seems like a whole different skill set. I admire people who do it well. I have no desire to try it. I’m happy keeping my verbal responses to melodies on the printed page.

What is your favorite fiddle tune?

That changes day-to-day and depends on which instrument I’m playing. I love playing John Reischman’s tunes Salt Spring, The North Shore, and Ponies in the Forest. Almost all of his tunes would have to be at the top of any list of favorite tunes to play. Or sometimes I’ll get on a Kenny Baker or Bill Monroe tear and just feel like playing all the tunes of theirs I can think of, one after another. Like visiting old friends.

How much time you spend touring with the Jaybirds and Mighty Squirrel?

The Squirrels have always been a much-beloved side-project for everyone in the band, so we don’t tour a lot. A couple of trips out a year is about all anyone has time for. We do such a strange, uncategorizable brand of music (Klezmer, Celtic, Americana, swing, originals, French Canadian) it’s hard to book the band.

The Jaybirds play 2-3 times a month. Usually no more than 5-day tours. It’s too expensive otherwise. We’re too old and busy with other things to hit the road like some of the younger bands who are happy living out of a van for months at a time. I think our light tour schedule and the fact that we almost always have separate hotel rooms is a good part of the reason we’ve stuck together as a band with no personnel changes, and still actually like each other, for 5 CDs and coming up on 13 years.

Vintage and Unique, the Jaybirds (buy CD)
SQWorld Record, the Mighty Squirrel (buy CD)

What are you currently reading?

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?

I couldn’t name one. I’d have to name a handful (in no particular order):  Coast of Chicago, Stuart Dybek; Stoner, John Williams; The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald; A Death in the Family, James Agee; Open Secrets, Alice Munro; Break it Down, Lydia Davis; They Came Like Swallows, William Maxwell; Magic For Beginners, Kelly Link; Cosmiccomics, Italo Calvino; After the Quake, Haruki Murakami; The Collector, John Fowles; Ordinary Love and Good Will, Jane Smiley.

What book do you reread? Why?

I re-read all the books on the list above semi-regularly because I teach them whenever they fit the reading list. But to single out one other book: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami. It’s very satisfying, read after read, because of the density and complexity of its construction. I don’t get tired of trying to understand how its intertwined narrative layers intersect without somehow ever really touching and in doing so end up providing this wackily dramatized model of human consciousness. It’s ingenious.

Who is your favorite Western writer?

Possibly not favorite, but certainly one I’ve read the most regularly is Raymond Carver.


His stories are so good, read after read – dense, subtle, light, poetic, clean, spare, surprising … And I love seeing how the work evolves and changes through his life. A story like “A Small Good Thing” I just never get tired of re-reading.

Who is your favorite character from Western (U.S.) Literature?

Fools Crow from the novel Fools Crow by James Welch.

Get a trade or a day job that pays well enough that you can work part-time (without killing yourself), and write full time when you finish the MFA. Don’t quit. Make sure to leave the program with a few trusted and reliable readers of your stories. And don’t quit. Submit your work often and be thick-skinned about it. And don’t quit.” 

What’s the best writing advice you've given?

Get a trade or a day job that pays well enough that you can work part-time (without killing yourself), and write full time when you finish the MFA. Don’t quit. Make sure to leave the program with a few trusted and reliable readers of your stories. And don’t quit. Submit your work often and be thick-skinned about it. And don’t quit.

How did you come to include a young boy’s fascination with the Franklin Expedition and the quest for the Northwest Passage in your latest novel, Inukshuk?

Sir John Franklin is a distant relative on my mother’s side. He led the single most tragically failed Arctic expedition of all time. Set sail in 1845 and perished along with all 110 of his crewmen over a period of 5-6 years stuck in the pack ice. Scurvy, lead poisoning, botulism, cold, starvation … and cannibalism on a scale beyond anything we know of in such circumstances.
Sir John Franklin (via)
Lady Jane Franklin (via)

I had it in mind to write about him for many years. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with his story, but I’d grown up hearing about him and had always found the whole thing fascinating – especially the well-publicized and romantic heroism (heroine-ism?) of his wife Lady Jane sending out search party after search party. They were like movie stars of their era. Made front-page news regularly.

When I got underway with researching I learned, among other things, that Franklin has been written about a LOT already, in both fiction and nonfiction, and that he also wrote and published a lot about himself and his adventures. So very quickly the whole story began to look to me like familiar, well-traveled ground. And I came to realize that I didn’t want to contribute yet another well-imagined (but phony) sea-faring story that attempts to “get it right” while still entertaining a modern day reader with all the familiar tropes of the idiom … and I also didn’t want to invest a lot of energy in pretending to undermine all those familiar tropes in order to finally “tell the truth” about what happened. The really interesting thing about the Franklin story, for me, is that no one knows “the truth” and no one probably ever will (though I hear the Canadian government is once again hard at work to find the sunken ships in hopes of finally getting some answers). Was it lead poisoning, botulism, starvation, or some weird virus that killed them all? Did any of them escape and go live with First Nations people for the rest of their lives? We can’t know. That’s what’s interesting about it to me. I like unanswerable mysteries. I think life is kind of an unanswerable mystery.

So, I developed this obsessive kid as a lens through which to look at the whole Franklin story. This gave me license to play with dramatic historical elements and to explore the whole problematic relationship between history, story and imagination. What we call “history” is really mostly just a story we agree to tell each other and believe in. How does imagination figure into that? Thomas (my character) gave me a way to explore and dramatize that…and simultaneously to get at the scenes on the ice with the lost sailors. Plus I just liked him. He’s an interesting and tormented (self-tormenting) kid.

You just published a piece in Poets & Writers that argues it is possible to teach people to write creatively. Doesn’t the annual slug of Christmas/holiday letters defy that notion?

Not when the cards come from former students or classmates and are in rhyming couplets. But come to think of it, n e of them ever hit me with the annual holiday letter. They’re either too busy writing fiction or… maybe they don’t like me anymore.

How do writing and playing music and writing novels and short stories compliment each other?

Short stories: Does this paragraph make my head look big?

Novel: Are you kidding? I wish I could fit into a size 8,000 words! And I’m still tiny for a novel …

Short stories: Size doesn’t matter! How many times do we have to tell you? It’s your depth of focus and extended detailing that gets us hot and riled.

Music: Guys, is anyone going to pay attention to me? I have to learn these new songs…don’t you want to play?

Short stories: And how do you like my use of that crazy research material you were probably saving for your next incarnation? Forgive us, it was so sweet…

Novel: I’m just glad you were able to do something with it! Really, it’s a weight off my mind. Would have taken me hundreds of pages to make it work and I’m so busy already.

Music: Guys?

Novel: But are the walk-on characters in my midsection extraneous? Do I have too many of them, and too many themes and sub-tensions and …?

Short stories: You’re all connected! Don’t worry, everything turns out in the end! You can be baggy. Contain multitudes, wander a little. Relax! Me, I’ve got to watch every single thing I take in and justify the ways…

Music: Guys! We’re going on the road next week. I have to practice so I can remember all this material. Shut up!

Novel: With pleasure. I guess.

Short stories: Just remember to visit us a little in the hotel room instead of watching TV or wasting time on Facebook, OK?

Oh, wait. Did you mean complement, not compliment?

Uh, yes.

To add to what I said above about writing music: Both playing and writing are meditative and expressive, but writing makes sense of things and organizes experience, so it requires a little more distance. For me. When I’m in the thick of trouble or hard times, playing music can be an essential balm. Music can just come out of pure feeling … I guess because it’s more physical and (to state the obvious) it doesn’t use words. Words do something with experience that is really useful and essential, but for me anyway, always has to come later in the process, after I’m calm and have perspective and am ready to think.

What are you writing now?

Beginning a new novel.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Ten hours to every day.

What else are you passionate about?

Watching the political freak show in our country unfold and trying to guess what new low we’ll sink to next with the corporatization of democracy. Riding my bike 1,000 miles every summer. The smell of the pine trees on the bike trail. The color and smell of my wife’s hair.

Buy Inukshuk at IndieBound or at Amazon

Buy Fiddler's Dream at IndieBound or at Amazon

Buy No One But Us at IndieBound or at Amazon

Buy Wonderful Tricks at Google Books or at Amazon

This interview was conducted via email.

August 29, 2012

Excerpt of Interview of Anthony Doerr

The following is an excellent excerpt of an interview with Anthony Doerr that's up over at r.kv.r.y done by its editor Mary Akers. Please visit r.kv.r.y to read the whole interview.

Anthony Doerr (via)

“I do everything with sweaty palms and trembling, unfortunately. But I take heart from the folks who have risked failure before me." ~ Anthony Doerr

Mary Akers: Thanks for agreeing to talk with me today. I loved your short story “Oranges” that appears in our July issue. It’s such a beautiful, wistful story and I really admire how you grapple with decades of time in what is quite a short story. The next-to-last paragraph reads:
“In the morning he’ll stand up in front of his seventh-graders. ‘History is memory,’ he’ll say. ‘It’s knowing that the birds who come coursing over your backyard are traveling paths ten thousand years older than you. It’s knowing that the clouds coming over the desert today will come over this desert a thousand years from now. It’s knowing that the eyes of the ones who have gone before us will someday reappear as the eyes of our children.’”
This idea of history-as-memory is lovely. It’s also what I’d like to focus on today, if you’re game, and since your most recent book is titled Memory Wall, I’m going to go ahead and assume that you are. In your writing, you often travel freely through time–forward, backward, into the future, and even into the pre-human past. This gives your stories such a sweeping feel, such a massive, monolithic presence. Does this style come naturally to you, or do you have to give yourself permission to take those leaps? Do you do it confidently? Or only with sweaty palms and trembling?
Anthony Doerr: Thank you, Mary! Thanks even more so for being a promoter and protector of literary work.
Okay, time-travel in fiction. Let’s see. I do everything with sweaty palms and trembling, unfortunately. But I take heart from the folks who have risked failure before me.
The first Alice Munro short story I ever read was “Walker Brothers Cowboy” and it includes these lines:
“He tells me how the Great Lakes came to be. All where Lake Huron is now, he says, used to be flat land, a wide flat plain. Then came the ice, creeping down from the North, pushing deep into the low places … And then the ice went back, shrank back towards the North Pole where it came from, and left its fingers of ice in the deep places it had gouged, and ice turned to lakes and there they were today. They were new, as time went … The tiny share we have of time appalls me, though my father seems to regard it with tranquility.”
As a kid I loved hunting for fossils, finding crinoids and brachiopods and (on the very best days) trilobites in the stones around our house. And I loved making timelines out of long scrolls of paper and trying to understand the size of a human life in comparison with larger, geologic scales of time. I remember one analogy in particular stuck with me, one my mother (a science teacher) taught us in middle school: What if a single calendar year, she asked us, represented the entire four-and-a-half billion year story of the Earth?
The Earth, we established, would form on January 1; single-celled life would show up in late March. Animals with skeletons wouldn’t evolve until late November. Dinosaurs wouldn’t show up until Christmas and would be gone by the 27th. Recognizable homo sapiens didn’t show up until 11:48 pm on December 31st! Columbus fumbled his way to North America 12 seconds before midnight!
That exercise freaked me out and excited me all at once. Egypt, Greece, ancient China–great civilizations, who fought wars and built temples and created whole literatures, could fit into a few seconds on the calendar year of the planet’s life? To a child, this represented a radical re-ordering of humanity’s place in the universe. Mom and Dad hadn’t always been there! Abraham Lincoln hasn’t always been there. The idea of “Ohio,” the idea of cultivating vegetables in a garden like my Mom did–those things hadn’t always been there!
Like Munro’s character in “Walker Brothers Cowboy,” I was beginning to understand that I was only going to exist on Earth for an appallingly brief time: that I was hopelessly mortal. This knowledge is what made me want to communicate some sense of the larger scales of time in my own work. For years I couldn’t figure out how to do it. But when I came across Munro, and saw how she used time (and then later Andrea Barrett, and Italo Calvino), that she didn’t believe short stories had to take place in one evening, or in one room, or in one day, I found my permission.
Incidentally, this knowledge, that life is short, is what made me decide, at a ridiculously early age, that I wanted to be a writer: I wanted to do what I loved to do before I ran out of time.

It's great to think back to what inspired us as kids and the peculiar ways we tried to pin down the world.  On an old manual typewriter, I made long detailed forms that I made my family fill out.  There aren't these limits: I am a scientist, I am a writer, I am a man, I am a woman.  Everything comes together in a creative ferment, which is where the best work comes from.  What about your childhood?  Did it create this lasting thing in you?  Did it give you a sense of time?

August 28, 2012

All Hat, No Cattle

by Russell Rowland

The Bucker, by C.M. Russell (via)

From the time that the American West was ‘settled,’ the events of that pioneering time have often been elevated to a form of romantic heroism seldom seen in world literature. Even the outlaws of the West became big, bold figures who bravely faced down adversity to accomplish feats noble and enviable.

The Western identity has been suffering from this misguided attempt at revisionist history ever since. Rather than telling the story of the West in a way that was authentic and accurate, writers often surrendered to the stereotypes that were born in those early days. And sadly, these stereotypes continue to be swallowed whole and regurgitated by writers and artists and moviemakers who have never even been out West, much less immersed themselves in its culture.

As a result, the past century and a half of Western literature has been shaped by two competing movements. The first is easy to identify. Ever since 1902, when Owen Wister, an Eastern aristocrat, published The Virginian, the ‘Western’ has been a staple of American culture. And although there have been notable Western writers who were true westerners, much of the accepted formula was determined by works such as The Virginian, written by outsiders who were familiar only with the most romantic notions of the West. Wister was a graduate of Harvard Law, where he became friends with Teddy Roosevelt. Much like Roosevelt, Wister spent several summers in the West as a young man, although there is no evidence that he worked the land or lived as a Westerner, as Roosevelt did. So he was basically a tourist, and like most tourists, he got a chance to see the West at its best. It’s not hard to imagine how this informed his writing, as well as his take on Western culture.

Owen Wister (via)

Young Teddy Roosevelt (via)

But although Wister was a former banker and a lawyer, he was also an accomplished writer. And he was smart enough to know that the best way to appeal to his readers was to have his title character be a common man with uncommon skills. In the opening scene, the narrator watches from a train as a bunch of cowboys helplessly try to catch a wild horse. After watching this mayhem for a while, one of the cowboys  “climbs down from the fence, with the undulations of a tiger, smooth and easy as if his muscles flowed beneath his skin.” Moments after he enters the corral, “like a sudden snake, I saw the noose go out its length and fall true; and the thing was done.”  This is our introduction to the Virginian, and as the book progresses and he continues to perform such feats, with that same cool demeanor, it’s not hard to imagine how this book planted the seed for the careers of John Wayne, or Clint Eastwood. Wister also had a real gift for turning a phrase, and it didn’t take long for The Virginian to become one of the most popular novels of its time.

And the Western was born. As were many of the characteristics of what soon became a staple of twentieth century culture. Stories of a lone figure with a mysterious past, coming up against forces seemingly greater than any man could overcome, became the norm for the Western. And of course a sweet gal didn’t hurt, and a loyal horse. A shootout was always good. And absolutely vital were villains who interfered with all things pure—yes, the bad guys.

Which leads to the second aspect in the development of the Western. There’s no question that the Western would not have become what it was without the ultimate enemy of the settlers—those dastardly Indians. But that aspect of the Western identity required some serious revision. It could be said that the first examples of fiction from the West were the ‘true’ accounts of what happened out here.

It’s not hard to imagine how this revision took shape. While the government quietly plotted their strategy of forcing the Indians to leave the land they’d occupied for centuries, they told the public that the Indians had readily agreed to these arrangements. What they didn’t tell them was how they manipulated these agreements with the use of starvation, disease (often spread purposely, such as the infamous small pox-infested blankets), or forced separation from their families and their homes. They often moved the men of a tribe to one desolate area and the women and children to a completely different desolate area so that neither group had enough food, and of course they also didn’t have each other. So when the settlers of the West came across a bunch of pissed-off Indians, they were confused. Didn’t they agree to this deal? Didn’t we adequately compensate them with food and land and supplies? They must be crazy!

The government didn’t need a conspiracy to turn people against the Indians. They just took their land away and slaughtered those who wouldn’t agree to their terms, and the natural reaction from the Indians took care of the rest. Thus a wholesale genocide was swept under the rug and a whole race of people was marginalized in just a matter of years. It would be interesting to know how many residents of the West know that hundreds of thousands of Indians were murdered during this time, and that several tribes, each with their own unique culture, were completely annihilated.

So the formula for the Western was established, and it worked quite nicely for decades. The movie industry picked up on it, and John Ford and William Wyler made film after film (many of them very good) where men fought against the elements and the Indians (usually played by white actors) to create a life for themselves in the wild, lawless West. Those who argued the veracity of these stories were ignored, and the Indian perspective was very skillfully extracted from the American culture. While we bought their charming turquoise jewelry, beaded necklaces and woven rugs, we made absolutely certain that they weren’t heard. America didn’t just steal the land and the dignity of these people. For decades, we also stole their stories, their voices.

At Fort Laramie (via)

Thankfully, from the beginning, there was another slow, quiet movement underway in the development of literature from the West. It took longer to emerge because it was never as profitable as the prototypical Western. But from those early days of the ‘settlement’ of the West, a few dedicated people were making an effort to tell the real story.

Many of the best literature from those early days came in the form of memoir, although some of the best of these works didn’t find their way to publication until years, sometimes decades, later. Stories like Letters from a Woman Homesteader (1919), by Elinor Pruett Stewart, revealed more of the harsh realities of life on the frontier, especially for those in the majority, those whose life out West didn’t go as planned. Pruett came West as a young wife and mother, but her husband died soon after they arrived. Pruett’s frank account of her ordeal is a good example of how the best of these early accounts didn’t turn their stories into romantic adventures. She talks honestly about how frightening and lonely life was in those early days.

Another seminal account of early life in the West was We Pointed Them North, by E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott, a cowpuncher who speaks frankly about his fear of carrying a gun, his affection for the Indians (he, like many cowboys from that time, married an Indian woman), and the proliferation of gambling and prostitution that was a part of life in the Old West.

Eventually, this kind of honesty found its way into the fiction. And interestingly enough, in both the better memoirs and the more authentic fiction, it was often the women who were brave enough to take these risks. It makes you wonder whether the pressure to be ‘Western’ was felt less by the women, especially those who were simply writing for the sake of writing. Mari Sandoz published Old Jules and introduced readers to one of the more unlikeable characters in Western literature. But it was based on her father, a man who struggled to survive in the best way he knew how. He was a jerk, but the way she told the story helped us understand why he acted the way he did.

The first writer from the West to earn a Pulitzer Prize was Willa Cather, whose brilliant novels about people in the Nebraska farmland made no effort to hide the painful realities of life on the land, or the effect on its people. She wrote openly of alcoholism, suicide, rape, physical abuse and psychological struggles, especially the effects of loneliness on a person’s psyche.

Willa Cather (via)

Cather’s masterpiece, My Antonia, is the story of a young boy who grows up on a Nebraska farm, and in this novel Cather captured the complicated relationship between farmers and the land, and with each other, in prose that was spare but extremely powerful. Her quiet writing style hurt her late in her career when people began to dismiss her as sentimental and nostalgic. But there’s little argument that Cather broke new ground in the effort to explore what it was really like to live in the West. And thankfully, her reputation has returned to its rightful place over time. Her work is frequently cited by writers of all genres as among the best of her generation.

Once Cather established that it was okay to tell the truth, others followed suit, and the publishing world (often reluctantly) began to feature Western writers that were telling much more realistic stories about life in the West.

But there was a resistance to this approach from the beginning, as if anything that contradicted those early myths—anything that wasn’t romantic and noble—was not going to appeal to the reading public. This put Western writers in a strange predicament. If a writer decided they wanted to portray elements of the West that were unexplored—the underbelly—they were discouraged by publishers or marginalized by reviewers. Meanwhile, writers of genre fiction have always struggled to be taken seriously by the literary elite. It seemed that Western writers couldn’t win.

In due course, some of the better writers managed to get their work out there thanks to the undeniable quality. But even then, acclaim was hard to come by. The best example is Wallace Stegner’s classic novel Angle of Repose. When this novel was released in 1972, the New York Times decided it wasn’t worthy of a review, despite the fact that Stegner was already a well-established novelist. The Times must have been very surprised when Angle of Repose won that year’s Pulitzer Prize. They then reconsidered their decision not to review the book, although as if to justify their initial decision, the review was not glowing.

This challenge to be taken seriously has diminished, but it has never left. Larry McMurtry, a student of Stegner’s esteemed creative writing program at Stanford, also won a Pulitzer for his sweeping novel Lonesome Dove (which was loosely based on We Pointed Them North). McMurtry has shown an admirable versatility over a very long career, with novels as varied as The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment, and has won an Oscar (for his adaptation of Annie Proulx’s story “Brokeback Mountain”), but you seldom hear him mentioned among the best American novelists.

So what is it about this stereotypical Western identity that creates such contrasting reactions of intrigue and dismissiveness? What is so intriguing about the mythical version of life in the West that people seem unwilling to let go? What is it that this image of the West provides?

“Independence, adventure, the opportunity to reinvent yourself, to hide from your past, and the chance to explore nature—all of these are aspects of the Western identity that appeal to people everywhere. The idea that there’s still a place to reinvent yourself—an option if things fall apart where they are."

The answers to these questions may lie in the themes that are so consistently present in the original westerns. Independence, adventure, the opportunity to reinvent yourself, to hide from your past, and the chance to explore nature—all of these are aspects of the Western identity that appeal to people everywhere. The idea that there’s still a place to reinvent yourself—an option if things fall apart where they are. The choice of going somewhere and keeping your past a mystery, taking on a different name, or no name at all, like The Virginian, appeals to peoples’ desire for escape.

But there will always be artists who insist on the truth, and insist on pulling their readers away from escape. And thankfully, there will always be readers who seek that kind of truth.

Perhaps one way to look at the history of Western literature is to compare it to an ever-changing musical program. In the beginning, while they allowed a few women to come up on stage and warble a few tunes, the featured players were akin to a barbershop quartet—a bunch of (white) guys dressed in costumes, singing songs that sounded good but had little substance—pure entertainment. While the audience clapped politely for the warm-up acts, the most boisterous applause was reserved for these featured performers, the guys who brought a smile to everyone’s face.

But gradually, it became hard to ignore the fact that some of these women could really sing, that they weren’t just doing this as a way to keep themselves entertained when they weren’t breaking their backs working. The men were forced to make room on the stage. When Willa Cather broke through and joined the chorus, the music became more complex, more nuanced. There was dissonance, dramatic tension, and even dark passages.

And the choir grew, adding more altos, sopranos, and an occasional minority voice. Native Americans were invited to raise their songs again after being muted for decades. N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko, James Welch, and Louise Erdrich (for my money, the most consistently excellent novelist in America today) not only broke down the barrier, but did it with a mastery of their craft that catapulted them way past being considered ‘Native American’ novelties, but first-rate novelists, period.

And the stage became broader yet. Minorities that hadn’t even been acknowledged as part of Western history found a place in the chorus. The Japanese wrote about their internment, the Latinos about their role in Western agriculture, the stories of the Buffalo soldiers and black cowboys emerged. The Chinese miners and railroad workers. Even the stories of white Westerners became less homogenized, with an honest exploration of prejudice against the Irish (especially in the mines), the Germans, the Russians. Soon, those who suffered religious persecution stepped forward, and we heard stories from the Mormons, the Hutterites, the Catholics, and the Jews.

Finally, it has become an opera, with elaborate costumes, full orchestra, a chorus of color and language, ethnic foods and dance, mail order brides and…gasp…homosexuals!

What seems to be happening is what ideally happens everywhere. While the West retains its unique qualities, the cultural elite seems to be making the transition toward seeing Western artists as simply artists rather than regional artists. But in order to complete this transformation, it’s important that we in the West continue to make changes of our own. It does Westerners no good to look for blame for the way we’ve been portrayed all these years. It’s tempting to single out those who continue to perpetuate these myths for their own profit, to chastise them for pushing our identity backwards just when it’s gaining some forward motion. But it’s more useful to focus on what we can do to keep up this momentum going.

Until we invite all voices into the chorus, without compunction, there will always be an element of the West that feels inauthentic, concocted. And as long as we continue to mythologize those who were responsible for the atrocities that happened here, it will be hard to take our apologies seriously. Imagine if the people of Germany had cities named for Himmler, lakes honoring Goerring, statues of Hitler. In the West, we think nothing of having Custer County in Montana, or Sheridan, Wyoming, named for one of the men most responsible for breaking every treaty we signed with the native tribes.

More than anything we have a responsibility to tell the truth. And to support the artists that are making an effort to depict the West as accurately as possible. That is our job, and thankfully artists all over the West are committed to that end.

 Russell Rowland, who has an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University, has published two novels, In Open Spaces, which made the San Francisco Chronicle's bestseller list and was named among the Best of the West by the Salt Lake City Tribune. The New York Times called it a novel of “muted elegance.” Its sequel, The Watershed Years, was a finalist for the High Plains Book Award. Rowland also co-edited, with Lynn Stegner, the recent anthology West of 98: Living and Writing the New American West, a collection of essays and poetry from writers in every state West of the Mississippi exploring what it means to be westerner in today's society. Rowland's unpublished novel, High and Inside, was recently named a finalist for the Dzanc Mid-Career Novel Award, and “All Hat, No Cattle” is part of a collection of essays he's writing about the West and Western literature. He is looking for a publisher for this collection as well.
Buy In Open Spaces at IndieBound or at Amazon
Buy The Watershed Years at IndieBound or at Amazon
Buy West of 98 at IndieBound or at Amazon

August 27, 2012

Happenings, Week of August 27

Here's what's in the hopper for the Week of August 27. Lots of great stuff! As always, let us know you happenings so we can post them (
Week of August 27

Utah Book Month, via The Bluestocking Society

Vegas Valley Book Festival Pre-festival events, August 13 to September 21 - Nominations Open For Crystal Bookmark Award, August 15 to November 3 - Wish I Was There! - international postcard project and exhibition, August 26 to October 5 - "Spark!" Poetry Contest (grades 9-12) entries, Las Vegas, NV


Selden Edwards, The Lost Prince, 7 p.m., Politics & Prose, Washington, DC

Literature Discussion Book Club on The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, 7 p.m., Barnes and Noble, Boise, ID

Pauls Toutonghi, Evel Knievel Days, Prairie Lights, Iowa City, IA


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Book Release


Benjamin Benjamin has lost virtually everything—his wife, his family, his home, his livelihood. With few options, Ben enrolls in a night class called The Fundamentals of Caregiving, where he is instructed in the art of inserting catheters and avoiding liability, about professionalism, and on how to keep physical and emotional distance between client and provider.

But when Ben is assigned to tyrannical nineteen-year-old Trevor, who is in the advanced stages of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, he soon discovers that the endless mnemonics and service plan checklists have done little to prepare him for the reality of caring for a fiercely stubborn, sexually frustrated adolescent with an ax to grind with the world at large.

Though begun with mutual misgivings, the relationship between Trev and Ben evolves into a close camaraderie, and the traditional boundaries between patient and caregiver begin to blur as they embark on a road trip to visit Trev’s ailing father. A series of must-see roadside attractions divert them into an impulsive adventure interrupted by one birth, two arrests, a freakish dust storm, and a six-hundred-mile cat-and-mouse pursuit by a mysterious brown Buick Skylark.

Bursting with energy, this big-hearted and inspired novel ponders life’s terrible surprises and the heart’s uncanny capacity to mend.

Buy The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving at IndieBound or at Amazon
 Jonathan Evison is an American writer best known for his debut novel All About Lulu published in 2008, which won critical acclaim, including the Washington State Book Award. In 2009, Evison was awarded a Richard Buckley Fellowship from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. A second novel, West of Here, will be released in February 2011 from Algonquin. Editor Chuck Adams (Water for Elephants, A Reliable Wife, An Arsonist's Guide to Writers Homes in New England) has called West of Here the best novel he's worked on in over four decades of publishing. In his teens, Evison was the founding member and frontman of the Seattle punk band March of Crimes, which included future members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Born in San Jose, California, he now lives on an island in western Washington.

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Selden Edwards, The Lost Prince, 11:45 a.m., The Book Stall, Winetka, IL

Selden Edwards, The Lost Prince, 7 p.m., Anderson’s, Naperville, IL

Ruben Martinez, Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West, 5 p.m., Skylight Books, Los Angeles, CA

Pauls Toutonghi, Evel Knievel Days, with Patrick Somerville, This Bright River, Magers & Quinn, Minneapolis, MN


Douglas Brinkley, Cronkite, 7 p.m., Barnes and Noble River Oaks Shopping Center, Houston, TX

Selden Edwards, The Lost Prince, 7:30 p.m., Tattered Cover Colfax, Denver, CO

Susan Shulten, Mapping the Nation, 7:30 p.m., Tattered Cover LoDo, Denver, CO

Lysley Tenorio, Monstress, 7 p.m., San Francisco Public Library Excelsior Branch, San Francisco, CA


Before There Is Nowhere to Stand: Palestine – Israel: Poets Respond to the Struggle, a reading for a poetry anthology, Joan Dobbie, Sandy Polishuk, Willa Schneberg, Scot Siegel, Sabena Stark, and Ingrid Wendt, 7:00 p.m., Broadway Books, Portland, OR

Maggie Nelson, The Art of Cruelty and Bluets, 6 p.m., UW Art Museum, Laramie, WY

Lysley Tenorio. Monstress, 7 p.m., San Francisco Public Library Main Branch, San Francisco, CA


American Indian Sign Language Conference, Museum of the Plains Indian, Browning, Montana


American Indian Sign Language Conference, Museum of the Plains Indian, Browning, Montana

Helen Hegener, Matanuska Colony Barns, Wineck Barn, Alaska State Fair, hour's drive north of Anchorage


American Indian Sign Language Conference, Museum of the Plains Indian, Browning, Montana

August 24, 2012

Book Review: The New Mexico Trilogy of Rick Collignon

by Dan Wickett

The Journal of Antonio Montoya
Originally published by MacMurray & Beck, paperback currently in print via Unbridled Books

This extremely well-packaged debut novel by Rick Collignon announces the arrival of a fantastic writer who should be watched closely in the future. MacMurray & Beck found another winner with Collignon and his tale of the town of Guadalupe, New Mexico.

The book is slight, probably 4 x 6 inches and just over 200 pages long to boot, but the story is huge. It is the story of family, and how history can be used to remind us of how to live our lives today.

Collignon focuses on the Montoya family in The Journal of Antonio Montoya.  The tale begins when little Jose Montoya loses his father and mother to an automobile accident with a cow one August morning.  At the funeral, his mother sits up in her casket and tells his Aunt Ramona that she would prefer that Ramona take care of little Jose, rather than his Uncle Flavio and his wife Martha.

Ramona reacts to this event by telling Flavio her intentions to take and raise Jose for her deceased brother and sister-in-law.  She takes Jose through town and to her house, where she encounters her grandfather Epolito Montoyawho has been dead for some thirteen years at the time.  Getting past him at the door allows her to run into her deceased grandmother who offers her food.  It really isn't until little Jose follows his grandfather out to irrigate the fields that the reader sees that Ramona is not just hallucinating and that the dead have returned to the scenes of the living.

The amazing thing about Collignon's story-telling abilities is that once the reader realizes that everybody is seeing the dead, the idea no longer seems preposterous at all, and the presence of any of them just flows along with all of the other plotlines.

Ramona had left the little town of Guadalupe, going to a bigger city and trying to make her way as an artist, a painter. She never truly felt like she fit in with her parents or two brothers.  It wasn't until some time after she returned that she found her muse as an artistthe town of Guadalupe itself.  She began to paint the town, piece by piece, including a haunting scene of the cemetery engulfed in flames.

Jose's Uncle Flavio comes by, partially with the plan of taking Jose back home to Marthathe two of them had not been able to have the children they had always talked about raising, even with many years of unfettered lovemaking.  It isn't until he encounters his grandparents that he even gets an inkling of why Ramona has taken the task of raising Jose upon herself.  He ends up getting Martha to come overshe and Rose had always gotten along very welland going out to irrigate the field with Epolito and Jose.

Rose will have nothing to do with allowing Ramona to help out around the house.  She instead gives her an old musty book to readThe Journal of Antonio Montoya.  In it, Ramona reads the history of the town of Guadalupe from back when her distant relative Antonio was a Santeroone who carved religious icons out of wood for others to put in their homes.

It is through the history of Antonio and the town of Guadalupe back in his day that Ramona pieces together how family interacts, how some things that shouldn't, go unsaid, and vice versa.  It is through the reading of this history that she learns about herself, why she acts and reacts the way she does.  What the history is capable of doing is making Ramona realize that she has a purpose, and that she is not lost in life.

The book is a powerful little tale and extremely well written.  Collignon has a style that makes the words dance along the page.  It is not due to action, not verbosityit is just the style he employs that makes the words such a treat to read along.  This debut is not to be missed.




Originally published by MacMurray & Beck, paperback currently in print via Unbridled Books

In Perdido, Collignon returns to his fictional town of Guadalupe, New Mexico. While the Montoyas are present again, they do not dominate the second novel like they did the first.

Collignon instead concentrates on Will Sawyer and the folks that he associates with, specifically his business partner Felipe and Will's girlfriend Lisa. Will has landed in Guadalupe through some sort of fatehe ran out of gas one day and walked into town, finding an old abandoned house to take over.

Will and Felipe do construction work together.  Felipe is married with a few children while Will is single. Will's girlfriend Lisa works as a waitress and lives in a trailer at the back edge of her mother's homestead.  Her hotheaded brother lives with her mother still and is none too happy that she has taken up with Will, a non-Latino.

While they are going to another larger town for supplies one day, Felipe mentions to Will that one day a young girl was found to have committed suicide by hanging herself on the bridge they were about to cross.  The story interests Will and he wants to know more, so Felipe tells him to talk to an elderly gentleman who was around at the time.  After talking to him, Will learns that a specific police officer was in charge of the investigation, and he was still around.  His name was Ray.

As soon as Will brings up the subject, Ray gets very defensive and angry and threatening.  Will apologizes, not understanding how asking a simple question has caused this amount of anger, and leaves.  Later that night, he is awakened as his house is lit by headlights.  It is the car of Ray's nephew.  As he and his buddies make a lot of commotion and drink, Will gets angry and determines he wants to find out more about the girl now.

The further he looks into the story, the angrier the people in town get with him.  Collignon does a great job of allowing the reader to feel Will's frustration in the matter by not getting into the heads of the townsfolk.  Instead, one is left with Will's thought process and is as confused as he is about the anger being projected on him.

Collignon uses the people of Guadalupe well in this novel to look at the feeling of displacement within a community.  Will is never made to feel like he's one of the community, and the incidents following his simple line of questioning don't do anything to help out in that matter.

As he finds out more about the history of the incident, he really never finds out the truth.

Collignon shows his confidence in his storytelling with the fact that the incident that the main story revolves aroundthe death of the girlis not only an historical event, and it is never cleared up or explained; it just dangles there throughout the story.

Collignon is correct in his confidence however—the explanation is not needed nor missed.  As in his debut effort, the writing is fantastic and further develops the dancing usage of the English language established last time around.  The only thing missing is more involvement of the MontoyasCollignon did such a great job establishing their identities in his first Guadalupe novel that it seems they should be a great part of any story told there.



A Santo in the Image of Cristobal Garcia

Originally published by BlueHen Books, paperback currently in print via Unbridled Books

Collignon once again returns to his fictional town of Guadalupe, New Mexico, with what appears to be a final visit.  This time the Montoyas are the dominant family in the story being told, just as in his Collignon's first effort. 

This novel gives Collignon's readers a more thorough version of the history of Guadalupe as a large portion of the book involves Flavio Montoya, relating as he and his friend Felix used to listen to the last of the Garcia family recall the events of the three founders of the small town.  The story is a fascinating one that readers will be more than content to hear Collignon's version as opposed to my recap of it.

Collignon also gives his readers what appears to be the end of the town's history as the entire town is engulfed in flames through much of the novel.  There is some confusion over how the fire was started as Collignon continues a trait from his past novels of jumping into a story after the initialization of an event and not actually having that storyline complete before the end of the book.

He also brings back an element from his first novelthat of the unreliable character.   Where the reader was fully aware that characters that were dead were very active in The Journal of Antonio Montoya, in this effort we are treated to Flavio's dreaming and the fact that Felix is walking around, even though he had a debilitating stroke within the last decade. Another old friend of Flavio and Felix wanders towards the fire with only a shovel and is consumed by the flames only to reappear at Flavio's sister Ramona's house later on.

Collignon also returns to review his issues with the feeling of displacement within a community.  The non-Latino Officer Oliver is virtually ignored by the townspeople while he is trying to determine the cause of the fire and help get folks out to safety.  In each of the three efforts, Collignon has looked at this issue in a different manner, keeping it fresh.

Collignon is hitting on all cylinders with this effortthe writing is fantastic and further develops the dancing usage of the English language established in his first two novels.  In bringing back the Montoya family, he eliminates the only slight complaint a reader might have had with Perdido, and in telling the full history from beginning to end of Guadalupe, he gives his readers everything they could ask for this time.  As they were overlooked when they came out, try to find the first two novels firstthis one works by itself, but it would be a shame to not enjoy the town as it was meant to be.

(All three reviews originally written in 2002 and distributed via email from the Emerging Writers Network.)
Dan Wickett founded the Emerging Writers Network in 2000 and co-founded Dzanc Books in 2006 with Steven Gillis. He edited the short story anthology Visiting Hours (Press 53) and has published a short story in Quick Fiction.
Buy Visiting Hours