First time out, a writer runs circles around himself sifting through memories in this linked collection of stories (winner of the John Simmons Award) that builds into something like, but isn’t quite, a novel.
The opener, “My Name Is Stephen Mann,” introduces us to the narrator of the pieces to follow and gives us an idea of what to expect: finely tuned memory-fiction about a middle-aged man’s attempt to connect what he remembers of his father and grandfather (they live in his head as hardworking men of action) to his own nomadic and notably less brawny present life. In each story, we’re given another sliver of information about our narrator: he’s a writer, seems to have had some military experience, has a child and a broken marriage and has moved around from one western or Great Plains town to another with no great overall purpose in mind. “Quotidian” sums up the volume quite nicely. Only four pages long, divided into “Reading the Paper,” “Buying Groceries” and “Watching TV,” it gives us a man going about the little details of his life, walking through his house drink in hand, watching his daughter sleep, rummaging through a storehouse of menial mental images and trying to find something of note in them: “Lift your rum in tribute to the lightning firing about the sky like brain waves, then pilot, dry-eyed, toward your room.” The mood swings from this kind of melancholy to the isolated terror of the title story, in which the narrator agonizes over the wayward daughter who appears, shoeless and gaunt, at his door on a hard winter’s night.
While the material can be repetitive, Anderson’s tales are nevertheless focused and sometimes extremely moving in the manner of one of his primary influences, the late Andre Dubus.