MENDOCINO FIRE by Elizabeth Tallent


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This collection of stories in the American realist tradition has an adventurous, untethered feeling, with wide-ranging locales and points of view.

The first thing you notice about Tallent's first book in more than 20 years (Honey, 1993, etc.) is its breadth of subject matter. Set on university campuses, in the hardscrabble backwoods, or among much-divorced families, these stories feature emotionally wrenching situations and dramatic landscapes. Tallent probes different points of view—a young man struggling with his dad in a working-class California fishing community; an academic having an erotic encounter with her female student; an aging activist dealing with his multiple-ex-wives problem. These stories explore different genders, sexualities, and settings with skill and subtle intelligence. Next you notice Tallent’s, er, talent as a prose stylist—she writes in long sentences pulsing with images and insights. In a story about a woman painfully and suddenly divorced, Tallent describes the woman's thoughts when scrutinizing a photograph of her husband's lover: "The mouth is done in a lipstick of a crude, carnal, trashy red, a third-world mouth, a Cuban mouth, and Ximena can't help wondering if the lover feels the need to mitigate her whiteness, if the ethnification of her mouth is owed to competitiveness with Ximena, about whom [her husband] must tell stories...." Or an academic observing her student, for whom she’s developed an overwhelming attraction: “Under Clio’s hot gaze the knot of passionate hair at the Beloved’s nape, screwed so tight in its coil, releases red-gold strands flaring with electricity.” Tallent’s assured voice is a pleasure to follow through this book. Occasionally, she tries to cover too much ground within one story, and the reader loses the thread, as confusing gaps of time occur and important characters recede. But mostly, Tallent is in control as she navigates her shifting landscapes.

An ambitious and wide-ranging set of stories that creates empathy for most of its characters due to Tallent's generous imagination.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-241034-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2015


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