Carver-esque, West Coast–set tales of working-class hardship from Roe, author of the well-received novel The Miracle Girl (2015).
Roe’s short stories, in the main, are vignettes of a life not many people would willingly choose: “All in all, then, not exactly a glossy Kodak moment suitable for framing, I admit,” as the protagonist of the lead story puts it. Roe's world is a haze of schnapps bottles, home pregnancy kits, and Indian casinos, all recipes for disaster—and yet, because they are fundamentally decent if fundamentally flawed, Roe’s characters pull through: “we’ll just have to live as best we can, and wait,” the protagonist concludes, having also let us know of a curious twist. In other stories, set in bars and run-down apartments, the characters live as well as they can, enduring abortions and poverty and life in cities like San Diego and San Francisco that abound in beauty and pleasures just beyond reach. Roe writes assuredly, without condescension or sentimentality, of people for whom going to a fast-food restaurant is a carefully budgeted treat, one that too often “loses something between the wanting and the having.” One perfectly constructed story begins and ends with dashed dreams: “Later they would divorce and there would be much bitterness,” opens “Mexico,” closing a few pages later with the Hemingway-esque note that the story had been, after all, about “two people who loved each other but just not enough.” Indeed, not enough because they are too tired, too disappointed. Only a few moments leave this gritty, exurban world, and when they do they often take us into other places that not many people know about, like the lairs of the hash-smoking morel pickers of the southern Oregon coast; even then, though, it’s all a shroud of marine layer and moral—and morphine—haze.
Literature as sociology, or sociology as literature; either way, a sometimes-dispiriting but eloquent evocation of lives at the continent’s edge.