A collection of short stories explores a variety of life choices.
The titular story of Holing’s (Shake City, 2017, etc.) latest compendium sees a man with early-onset dementia immerse himself in the seething vitality of the Serengeti. There develops an uneasy to-and-fro between his knowledge of what awaits him and his memories of married life, both blissful yet incomplete, the upshot being that fear gives way to wonder. This, in essence, is the theme of the collection: 10 tales working together to caution readers to make decisions now that will bring contentment when looked back on later in life. This notion comes to the fore particularly in stories of place, such as “Between Wind and Water” and “Yellow Dog.” In the former, a peripatetic, work-obsessed engineer is posted to Hawaii, where the laid-back lifestyle gives pause to his wind-swept urgency. In the latter, a young woman breaks off her relationship and casts off conventional notions of happiness, forging a new life in vibrant, colorful Mexico. Holing is adroit at hinting at possibilities: nuances of what might or might not happen. These aren’t always resolved—readers expecting twist endings and emotional jolts will be disappointed—but even vignettes such as the forlorn fisherman’s tale “Fish Rap,” the bittersweet carjacking story “The Things You Leave Behind,” and the geologist’s contemplative daydream “When Mountains Melt” deftly add to the overall sense of longing. “Natural Selection,” set in a zoo, pits animal instinct against morality, whereas “Thief in the Night” invokes the cutthroat world of Silicon Valley to suggest that people should stay true to their natures. “Desperados” contrasts modern transience with bucolic ranch life and the capricious wiles of the California Gold Rush. “The Test” examines the desperation and sadness of Chinese adoption. In all these wistful stories, Holing allows room for characterization, often skipping back in time to show aspects of the protagonist’s past. The pacing in most cases is gentle, with the prose an easy mixture of narrative and description. For readers of a particular age who have made and regretted certain decisions in life, Holing’s thoughtful, melancholic writing should sit nicely.
Yearning rather than bemoaning; a poignant and altogether agreeable sequence of tales.