In Lawson’s (A Patrimony of Fishes, 1997) short story collection, dynamic characters struggle to stay together or gradually drift apart.
In “The Mushroom Hunter,” a man named Chundo is looking for a rare fungus, but at the heart of the story is the fact that the narrator, Barnaby, idolizes him—a fact that Chundo has used to his advantage for years. Each of these character-driven tales, primarily set in California, astutely examines interpersonal relationships. In “My Year Under the Dog Star,” for example, a man named Scott must deal with the animosity between his fiancee Kelly and his venture capitalist father, Ted. Ted gifts Scott with a new dog, but it doesn’t get along with the canine that the couple already have; indeed, the animals are literally at each other’s throats—an apt representation of Ted and Kelly’s dynamic. In the sublime “House on Bear Mountain,” April and her young daughter, Claire, lose husband and father Alec, and they fight to hang on to his lake house, which his brother and sister-in-law believe is rightfully theirs. Although many stories provide at least some humor, the endings are generally somber or unsettling—though certainly memorable. For example, in “Catch the Air,” Gordon’s father, Cris Hogart, once a member of a popular music group, has just turned 75. Although the story initially uses Cris as comic relief, it’s clear by the end that he’s not a happy man. The book concludes with two exceptional tales: “The Beekeeper of Río Momón” and the titular story, which both take truly chilling turns; in the first, characters search for a friend in South America, and in the second, a group goes into the woods to film a staged Bigfoot video. Lawson’s taut, graphic prose sparkles, as in this passage from “House on Bear Mountain”: “The tape clicks into place in the amped-up sound system, and the soundtrack of the movie of Claude’s miserable life begins, sung by a resurrected chorus of 1980s American girl bands.”
Insightful, stimulating, and unforgettable tales.