Debut story collection set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula ditches clarity, accessibility and character development in favor of a pastiche of fragments.
It is obvious the reader is in for a rough time when Monson opens with a diagram of “Characters and Their Relationships Therein,” followed by “A Helpful Guide to the Characters and their Relationship to Danger, and an Explanation of Some Symbols Commonly Found Therein.” The latter includes such entries as “RADIO: means love & loss & pine-away & frequency.” In addition, “A Table of Contents Provided for Your Convenience” includes “Brief Keyword Index and Identification of Speakers/Main Characters, As Appropriate.” Only then does the actual reading begin. The core trauma of the volume is described in the first offering, “Death Messages: Instructions for the Officer,” a brief second-person sketch describing the snowy night on which a police officer delivers to parents the bad news that their daughter Elizabeth has gone through the ice and drowned. In the title story, we learn that the protagonist’s father has stopped working, moved into the attic and become obsessed with being a Radio Amateur. The protagonist learns about radio himself, takes his younger brother in search of the mysterious Paulding Light and wonders how anything holds together. Radio schematics pop up throughout; midway through, they gather captions that appear to be from the protagonist’s mother, who has gone away. The protagonist finally begins to peek through all the artifice in the last two tales, “I Am Getting Comfortable With My Grief” and “The Sudden Possibility of Nakedness.” His school has been destroyed, his friends are getting married, and his psychologist suggests that he go to the wedding and begin to talk about his mother. But just as he begins to seem interesting, it’s over.
Too filled with static to come in clearly, too scrambled to be compelling.