Thirteen stories track men who live and work in states with only one area code.
Keep your eye on these men without women. Newcomer Wolven’s females are either instrumental, like Ann, the one who inspires Mark’s fatal love in “Tigers,” or as hard as men themselves, like Ida, who comes up in “Taciturnity” with a uniquely brutal way of taking revenge on the cop who arrested her grandson for drug dealing. Some of the heroes are in stir, like Cooper, who’s trying his hardest to keep a low profile during the last few weeks before his release in “Outside Work Detail.” But even the ones who aren’t doing time are locked in their own prison of alcohol, drugs, and testosterone. So the narrator of “The Rooming House,” after his arrest for beating his second wife on the same spot where he beat his first, can reflect, “It sounded so strange to me, to think of [children and retirement] and to think it was already past me, that part of life.” Whether they’re working as unofficial private eyes (“The Copper Kings” and “Underdogs”), burning cornfields that hide marijuana plants (“Controlled Burn”), or volunteering as sparring partners to prizefighters (“El Rey”), the bad-dog savagery of Wolven’s males makes their flights into lyrical sweetness all the more dazzling and disturbing. “Crank” and “Ball Lightning Reported,” in fact, threaten to dissolve into white-hot prose poetry about what it feels like to be high on speed. Yet “Atomic Supernova,” for all the surrealism of its Nevada sheriff’s conviction that he’s been set apart from lesser humans by the radiation he absorbed, is powerful stuff, and “Tigers” an extraordinary meditation on the relation between life, growth, and death.
A debut to treasure, a remarkably assured cycle of stories about men who’ll live in your heart even though you’ll be glad they don’t live next door.