Pringle (The Floating Order, 2009) works nine variations on the theme of grief in the wrenching stories of her second collection.
Her protagonists, often children and often unnamed, live lonely days in the small towns or isolated farmhouses of the upper Midwest, flattened by heat in the summer and risking death from exposure in the winter. Shell-shocked by loss, haunted by ghosts and the eerie birds that reappear in all the stories, they make choices that send them deeper into danger. One girl, whose sister ended up dead in a pond after last year’s agricultural fair, roams country roads alone at night picking up aluminum cans and finds a wounded carnie. Another girl dodges the mines planted in their backyard by a brother damaged by the war in the Middle East, and another deals in her own way with a mother who has just died from a brain aneurysm. A boy, who nearly dies in a drainage ditch when he goes out of the house in the morning before his parents are awake, finds himself haunted by his own ghost; a man whose wife has just suffered a miscarriage finds an eerie collection of jars of dead aquarium fish in the house from which his grandfather is moving to a retirement community. The characters dream intensely, waking in terror, and the stories themselves have a dreamlike intensity heightened by Pringle’s lyrical voice. Though the theme of all the stories is the same, and many of the characters have a family resemblance, the stories don’t feel repetitious: they remind the reader instead of how many strange shapes grief can take and how universal a human experience it is.
Readers willing to immerse themselves in sorrow, and sometimes in narratives that twist and shimmer before taking definite shape, will find reflected in these stories the unsteady path of coming back to life—or not—after loss.