Domestic dramas, failed marriages, gunshots in the night and a dash of alien intrigue punctuate a collection of gothic tales.
Returning to the pungent stories that represent his best work, National Book Award finalist Watson (The Heaven of Mercury, 2002, etc.) reaches new creative heights with some pieces and falls prey to literary navel-gazing in others. Fortunately, great works outnumber baffling ones in this mostly splendid collection. The first story, “Vacuum,” paints childhood not as we remember it but in its mad flush of abandon, as three boys get into trouble when their overworked mother reaches the end of her rope. Some entries are little more than snapshots, among them “The Misses Moses,” which profiles two spinster sisters, or “Terrible Argument,” which ends in self-inflicted gunfire. But when Watson is on his game, even the slightest tale carries narrative weight. That’s the case with one of the slimmest, “Fallen Nellie.” A beach girl sees her life pass before her eyes in seven pages of Watson’s sand-dry prose: “In this manner she tumbled through time all the way to the very end of it. Doesn’t matter which one did it to her, which gaptooth left her here in the palmettos beside the trail in the wildlife preserve along the beautiful white dunes of Bon Secour Beach. It was done.” There are some missteps. “Water Dog God” feels like a leftover from an earlier collection, and “Ordinary Monsters,” a confusing pastiche of flickering moments, is impenetrable. Elsewhere, though, the author focuses with Carver-like intensity on his characters’ lives; standouts include “Are You Mister Lonelee?” about a man who pretends his wife is dead when she’s really just a different woman now, as well as the time-bending, melancholy title story.
Watson consistently delivers that elusive element great Southern writers have always brought to the table—a delicious sense of the unexpected.