In Wright’s debut collection of short stories, desperate characters look for answers to pressing questions and bump up against life’s disinterest in providing them.
There is an impressive variety of characters in these tales. Young people from middle America break windows, buy sextants, or join the circus. Grown men with checkered military histories look for moral resolve in diplomatic work and comfort in routinely shined shoes. Some stories take place in developing countries, where child soldiers are dosed with drugs and orphans run away from villages in search of birth mothers. Others feature motorcyclists taking pit stops at gig jobs and small-town dive bars. Despite the collection’s variety, however, there’s also a strong, unifying thread throughout: all the characters seem to exist in what Wright describes as “that moment between budding and fading when the truth of everything unfolds right in front of you.” Younger characters at once delight in escape fantasies and face disappointing realities. Older ones grapple with attempts to remedy past errors and are humbled by the ways in which their hard-earned principles fail them. The stories ask: where does one go to figure things out? To war, to church, to peace work, to the road? The book doesn’t offer an answer, but it does force readers to experience the disquiet of confronting the question. In addition to skillfully sustaining such philosophical tension, Wright has a knack for rendering desolate landscapes and depicting spirited characters, which makes for poignant juxtapositions, and he also shows a natural ear for cadence. That said, the prose can feel imprecise at times, which weakens its impact: “And when he foretold her future, as when he threatened to make her disappear, his magic was no magic at all, but sorcery.”
An often provocative compilation that shows remarkable range.