This striking debut collection of eight stories offers several boldly imagined and scrupulously detailed explorations of the mysteries inherent in both the natural world and human interconnection.
People who live close to nature (or attempt to) are the protagonists of “A Tangle by the Rapid River,” an anecdote about an adulterous fisherman who can’t keep either his catch or his secrets, and “July Fourth,” a sly parable of America First optimism wrapped in an amusing tale of a bicontinental competition between US and British “sportfishermen.” Doerr strikes deeper in “The Hunter’s Wife,” a carefully developed story filled with fresh imagery about a Montana hunting guide and the free-spirited magician’s assistant whose inexplicable “foreign and keen sensitivity” to the souls of animals slowly drives them apart. People who can’t live where they’re meant to appear in “For a Long Time This Was Griselda’s Story,” in which a high-school volleyball phenom’s love for an itinerant carnival “metal-eater” is poignantly contrasted to her stay-at-home sister’s ordinary life; and “Mkondo,” about an Ohio “fossil hunter’s” troubled marriage to the impulsive Tanzanian girl whom he brings home, only to learn they’re “leveraged apart by the incompatibility of their respective landscapes.” Doerr’s meanings emerge more subtly in the title story, whose unnamed protagonist, a blind man living alone in Kenya, accidentally “cures” the victim of a venomous snail bite, and is mistaken for a great healer. But even this excellent story is dwarfed by “The Caretaker,” the brilliantly compact tale of Joseph Saleeby, a thief and idler who is uprooted and transformed by Liberia’s appallingly violent civil war, makes his way to the Oregon coast, fails in his duties as a literal caretaker, then lives as a recluse seeking atonement for his crimes and a place where he can belong. This is one of the great contemporary stories: an Edenic myth of sin and retribution, and, just possibly, Doerr’s ingenious variation on Flannery O’Connor’s masterpiece “The Displaced Person.”
The best new book of short fiction since Andrea Barrett’s Ship Fever. Keep your eye on Doerr.