Slim first collection that goes into unexplored territory both on the map and in the heart.
When a story opens with “Froggy had the job of chasing mushroom clouds in a Plymouth Fury,” where else could we be but Nevada? More specifically, these dozen pieces are set in or around the small town of Adaven (look closely) in a West that’s still quite wild though populated with bear hunters, Mormon bishops, ostrich farms, intrusive government forces, and a never-ending salty metal taste in the air. “The Manure Spreader” is about a father and son working a bleak farm in the shadow of a nuclear test site. A time of mysterious war is the background for the dreamy title story, about a couple trying to rough it in the mountains on a mine claim. “Wild Cow” is a near-perfect piece in which a father-son hunt for a cow gone wild comes to stand for a vanishing world of secluded ranches and cowboy morality. The ritual of eating calf-fries—cow testicles—for added fertility in “Teacher’s Pay” becomes the final rite for a son finally becoming a man. Two others set off to learn the truth of Area 51 (“A Hard Way to Make a Hundred Bucks”) just as the first baby to be born in Adaven arrives. “Mud Brick” is a brief meditation on unlikely love from a woman who followed her husband into the wilderness. Gibney’s tone is always clean and lovely, his message always clear: “Maybe it’s just progress and modern times, the dying off of an old and useless way of life. Maybe it’s something in the water that poisoned us from within, or the bone-dry end of a five-year drought that boiled out the best in all of us.”
The quirky Nevada we’ve never really known, told convincingly.