WESTERN ELECTRIC by Don Zancanella


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 Selected by Oscar Hijuelos, this 1996 winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award brings together eight stories set in the West, predominantly in Wyoming. As unadorned as the western plains, these tales feature some distinctive characters described in functional, no-frills prose. Originally published in literary magazines, Zancanella's tales move back and forth in time, summoning both the wild days of the 19th century and the present age of corporate ranching. They also explore the days between these eras, including the Cold War period, when Wyoming was first dotted by missile silos. Those edgy times are recalled in ``Disarmament,'' the story of a teacher in remote Wyoming who strikes up a friendship with a military man in charge of maintaining the now-empty silos. The '60s also meant the dawn of TV on the range, an event celebrated in ``Television Lies,'' tracing the excitement evoked in isolated homes by the first transmissions from Cheyenne. ``Cynthia Rising'' explores an uneasy cross-cultural friendship between an Indian boy, living in a small western town, and several of his white classmates. ``Thomas Edison by Moonlight'' views the famous man from the perspective of a 16- year-old aspiring inventor who seeks Edison out, only to discover that the Wizard of Menlo Park is as much a huckster as a genius, traveling in the West in search of pliable investors, not kindred spirits; the 19th-century journal-writer of ``The Chimpanzees of Wyoming'' records his affection for the two apes he displays in saloons across the West. Zancanella's interest in the eccentric figures attracted to the frontier is also in evidence in the contemporary tale of a waitress in Montana who invents an alternate self--an astronomer who predicts the end of the world, to be signalled by a solar eclipse. ``The Electric Evangelist'' chronicles the spiritual conversion of a telephone lineman after he survives being struck by lightning. An earnest debut--Zancanella could develop into a regional writer of interest.

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 1996
ISBN: 0-87745-567-8
Page count: 130pp
Publisher: Univ. of Iowa
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1996