HEART SONGS And Other Stories
Short stories about life in today's rural New England: expertly commanding in their detail of the daily life of farming and hunting, but offering little by way of originality of idea. Stories of ancient vengeance and life-long grudges creak under the weight of their myriad literary forebears. Two old men have been enemies since schooldays and still try industriously to cheat and outwit one another ("On the Antler"); in "Bedrock," a widower's farm is gradually wrested from him by his young second wife--a Snopesian schemer who, it turns out, seeks vengeance for the widower's having once defiled her in her childhood; and in "Stone City," a mean and murderous backwoods family has all but died out but still haunts a man in an ironic, generational twist. A central theme in other pieces is the gentrification of the land ("These few narrow acres were all that was left of the home place"). In the lopsided satire of "The Unclouded Day," an affluent city slicker who's moved to the country for summers tries to become a grouse hunter by paying preposterous sums for lessons (he's an absurdly hopeless shooter); and in "Heart Songs," a shallow-minded guitar player slums around among the backwoods locals, seeking to verify his own romanticized notion of the deeper and truer life of the uncultured. In spite of the quickly wearing effect of the us-versus-them satire, a vivid sense of place is at work here, as in the descriptions of deep-swamp fishing in "The Wer-Trout" (a man falls off the wagon after his wife leaves him) or in the rundown farmhouse-and-pickup-truck life of "A Run of Bad Luck" (a young man is two-timed by his wile); but, beyond their detail, the stories stretch plottily for their concepts or bed down lazily in familiar old tropes. Sharp-eyed in their execution, but often less so in what lies beneath.