Ramspeck’s debut collection abounds with flawed families, tense confirmations, and unlikely moments of grace.
In these stories, Ramspeck traces the emotional fallout from failed and imperfect connections. The threat of violence hangs over the proceedings: When recalling his first love, the narrator of “Slippery Creek” recalls her disapproving father revealing his gun. “He almost smiled, as though he thought I might appreciate the gesture,” the narrator notes—and that blend of implied violence and unexpected emotion serves as a template for much of what follows. The poverty-stricken protagonist of “The Second Coming” prays for a miracle to save his family; someone who might be his troubled father or a divine presence shows up with “a handful of wadded-up and dirty bills.” It keeps eviction at bay, though it doesn’t solve all the family’s problems—and these ambiguous miracles and flawed salvations continue as a motif. The narrator of “The World We Know” thinks back on his relationship with one of his sons, whose life imploded after he killed his girlfriend as a teenager; in “Bedtime Story,” the lines between life and death blur for one grieving woman. Ramspeck eludes easy sentimentality: In works like the title story and “Old Places,” he presents an honest view of the irrational violence and petty grievances of childhood. And while he’s able to work powerfully in a small number of pages, he can also evoke a more lyrical mode, as in the opening sentence of “Slippery Creek”: “When I was sixteen and living with my father for the final winter of his life, I fell in love for a time but did not mean to, and I lost something that was not mine to lose.”
These precise and resonant stories chronicle humble lives and unspoken traumas, making for a subtle and moving reading experience.