Dent’s (English/Susquehanna Univ.) debut story collection explores the lives of a handful of characters living along Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Several of Dent’s characters are rudderless women navigating young adulthood. In “At the Mouth,” a young woman who had been living with her grandmother before she died is now haunted by the old woman’s religious mania as she explores her own burgeoning sexuality. In “Hold My Hand,” a teenage girl and her brother struggle through childhood with an inept father, only to wander together into the underworld of methamphetamine production. Dent has a penchant for evoking an ethereal world, but she keeps her narratives firmly planted in the everyday realities of her often marginalized characters while she explores the socioeconomic and racial barriers that keep them bound, as if by an evil spell. “Wheels” invites readers to experience the fallout of a drunken hit-and-run in a community that wants desperately to exonerate the privileged girl who committed the crime, despite the feelings of the heartbroken working-class family who lost its young child. “The Truth You Know” lays bare the culture of a slum apartment building as the lives of the careworn tenants collide. Dent’s capacity to cover epic sweeps of time in fairly short pieces is remarkable. “The Hole At Backyard Park” follows two twins from their childhood into their older years, as they prepare to reunite after several decades of estrangement. When the twins observe their mother, who had kept herself busy with voluntary service during WWII, after the war has ended, Dent writes in his typically minimalistic and powerful prose: “[S]he also grew smaller and less clear. First her mole disappeared. Then her smile left. Then she seemed to fade into her naps, and the sternness left her eyes.”
Keenly observed and lyrical, an evocative collection with emotional heft.