Seven short stories, a rough-and-tumble novella and a clever bit of metafiction on teaching punctuate this collection from Wilder.
It’s very lean, this striking collection of tales that remind one less of contemporaries like Monica Drake or Sam Lipsyte and more of the darker plays of Sam Shepard. Loosely based around the western setting that surrounds California-based writer Wilder, the stories often pivot on the upending of clichés but also focus equally on the difficult equilibrium of relationships between all sorts of people. The title story observes the inner lives of people in an odd traffic class who have become obsessed with the mechanics of driving. “All she had to do was actually hit someone,” Wilder writes. “Not hit to kill. She only needed to make contact, feel the impact. Once she knew what it felt like to hit someone, she’d know what it felt like not to hit someone, and she would be cured.” Nor does Wilder shy away from the most grotesque of imagery. In “The Butcher Shop,” a divorcé, suffering through a swanky steak dinner, loses a tooth, swallowing it in a sip of wine: “This felt strangely right and he imagined himself swigging Zinfandel and swallowing teeth, eyes, nose, arms, until he was nothing but a stomach digesting itself.” “We Were Champions” offers up bitter survival instead of a gut punch with the story of a woman’s reflections in the wake of the suicide of her high school baseball coach. Fortunately, Wilder offers readers a breather with “Creative Writing Instructor Evaluation Form,” which offers commentary like “The instructor looks like she might be willing to #&%@ a few of us.” The collection is nicely summed up with “You’re That Guy,” about a man trying to find reasons to live in the aftermath of his father’s death.
Excellent meditations on the human condition, well-suited to rest alongside the likes of Denis Johnson and Richard Ford.