THE ROAD TO COSMOS by Bill Meissner


The Faces of an American Town
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A collection of memory pieces and character sketches rather than short stories, from a poet and author of the collection Hitting Into the Wind (1994).

The first part of this curiously organized collection interweaves memory pieces and character sketches; the second consists entirely of sketches, while the third and final is all memory pieces. There are 15 of the latter, in which Skip Carrigan, of Cosmos, Minn., remembers his father and his childhood. The tone is affectionate, though sometimes bemused (“I was always on the verge of understanding him, but I never quite could”). So his father never emerges clearly, while his mother, though living with them, is a complete blank; experiences with his schoolmates in the ’60s are thoroughly conventional, with occasional ripples in the pond: One friend leaves town after his parents’ divorce, another is killed in Vietnam. The character sketches (there are 15 of them, too) are as muted as Skip’s memories. Minnie, like her mother until she died of cancer, is a carnival fortuneteller; she quits one day, for no clear reason. Molly, 16, leaves home, though she’s not sure why. Kerri threatens to leave her husband because she hates the small-town life, but it’s an empty threat. Meissner tamps down conflicts, and his sketches wither on the vine. Norm tolerates his old friend Johnny (they were on the football team together) even though Norm has made something of himself and Johnny’s become a mean drunk. Even something as dramatic as a lightning ball rolling down a church aisle mid-service ends in bathos, as Dominic the usher reflects how the incident “showed how the town got religion, or lost it, or maybe something in between.”

Unrelenting blandness dooms even the most eccentric of Meissner’s characters.

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 2006
ISBN: 0-268-03501-6
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Univ. of Notre Dame
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2006