Eslami’s (Bone Worship, 2010) incisive story collection explores the shadowed corners of working-class lives.
In each of these 11 tales, unsung men and women grapple with the detritus of the everyday; chance encounters and split decisions are catalysts for the years of discontent that follow. In the opening story “Jocko Hollow,” two Montana boys’ lives are upended the summer they find a stranger occupying their favorite fishing spot. An older sister meditates on her brother’s zealous but seemingly deluded decision to join the Army in “Victory Forge.” Themes range from innocence to adulthood and identity. Role reversal among younger and older generations abounds: Parents behave selfishly (and often cowardly), and their children adopt adult roles before their time. Deacon, “a whip-smart boy of the prairie” born in a trailer to drunken simpletons, contrives a sense of purpose by taking a housecleaning job to pay for college in “Sour Milk”; the eponymous hero of “Adwok, Pantokrator” deals with the fallout of his mother’s alleged infidelities while facing the stark realities of immigration. In “Everything Gets Mixed Together at the Pueblo,” a tour guide, exhausted by the facade she maintains for endless herds of tourists, begins to fall out of character. The narrator wryly notes that Kathy and Jennifer, the guides, “do not have names of birds, or seasons, or words separated by hyphens, and this is mildly disappointing to everybody.” It’s one of many moments in the collection that articulate a profound feeling of alienation—both among other cultures and within our own. The edges are neatly filled in by several dreamlike stories, including the surreal “Hibernators,” wherein a young couple digs themselves a hole “where their love would bloom like the birth of a mole rat.” These worlds, if bleak, are never less than perfectly honest; social stratification and race dissolve as the rich and poor, from every corner of the world, struggle to find anything worth holding on to. If they do, it often owes to a programmed instinct for survival—composed all the while in stark, unflinching prose.
A searing array of stories envisioned through crystal-clear eyes.