Rhoda Manning is resurrected once again in a two-part collection.
The first half is comprised of Rhoda stories, sure to please fans of the many already-existing volumes of such (Collected Stories, 2000, etc.). The title story is told from a very young Rhoda’s point of view on her first abortive hunting trip, while an older Rhoda announces (in “Entropy”) that “My name is Rhoda Manning and sometimes I think too much”—though this doesn’t stop her from expounding on several decades of cross-generational substance abuse. “A Christmas in Wyoming” and “On the Wind River in Wyoming” are largely about Rhoda’s father: he moves to Casper, and, when the family visits, he’s the perfect excuse to explore family tension. After Daddy dies, Rhoda goes on an expedition (“The Golden Bough)” to pick a branch that will let her talk to him, but it’s the Demerol she’s given after a fall that summons him. In the second half, there are no Rhoda stories at all, although with Gilchrist everything is arguably Rhoda. In “Gotterdammerung, in Which Nora Jane and Freddy Harwood Confront Evil in a World They Never Made,” condo fees, the local health club, and a band of international zealots collide in a tale set close enough to 9/11 (on 9/13) that an author’s note is needed. “The Abortion” of two small-town teenagers becomes a bit of rhetoric reflecting the values of their provincial families’ lives and decisions. And in “Remorse,” a gay Arkansas hairdresser is forced to confront the degree of meaning in his life when a client dies for the beauty he realizes he has helped give her. Gilchrist, as always, is clever and wise, and never smarter than when Rhoda thinks: “I’d better start trying to teach them what I know. Every generation has things that will never be known again unless it is told or written down.”
Workmanlike, from an inspired source.