A loosely connected series of stories about chance, choices, and families.
In the title story of Cox’s debut collection, 18-year-old Creighton Bliss meanders home after a summer job in Oregon in 1950. Near a filbert farm, he spots Ella, who’s older, beautiful, and “on the slow side.” It becomes a tale of trust, if not love, at first sight. Later, when Creighton finds a wounded Ella in the same filbert field, he goes after her assailant and does something that ties him and Ella together forever. Although Creighton, the filbert farm, and Oregon settings appear in several of the other 12 stories in the collection, they’re linked more by theme than by plot. Specifically, they’re concerned with wayward, incompetent parents and their legacies. In “Night Paving,” Elsie Bly takes a job as a flagger with a road construction crew. She fantasizes about being killed on the job but she believes that no one—not even the man she once called “Father”—would cry. In “Bitter Parents of Untalented Children,” Carol and Bill offer an elaborate, macabre toast to their abusive mothers. The longest, most developed story, “Splendid Purpose,” tells of two couples sharing a dinner in 1965. Their marriages are troubled, but their lives seem inalterable. Then a green orb inexplicably appears in the sky, which causes the couples’ relationships to either ascend to loving acceptance or descend into depravity—and their decisions go on to affect their children. Cox creates an impressive array of characters and voices, including the illegitimate daughter of Rita Moreno, and he pulls them all off elegantly. His characters are imperfect, often scarred, and always struggling—and therefore believable. Cox not only constructs immediate, vibrant scenes, but also widens his focus to show the effects of specific choices over lifetimes. His occasional plot-twist endings, however, seem unnecessary given the overall depth of his tales.
A well-crafted debut that explores intended and unintended consequences.