Fourteen down-to-earth tales (all but one previously published), full of insight into how plain folks, families, and friends encounter disappointment and upheaval—and occasionally profound loss. A compassionate, rewarding first collection.
Gilliland’s (Being a Minor Writer, not reviewed) title story explores variations on the theme of longing—from a train conductor who observes a young working woman and her much older husband moving through stages from closeness to alienation; through an old man who allows himself to be run over by a train; and on to a young man who falls hard for his much older boss, a powerful figure in a Christian Science–like religion—but who loses her when the church has to sell its building and he loses his job as well. A maladjusted Vietnam vet, in “Purple Heart,” never far from his memories of the war, takes simple pleasure in talking with the Spanish cashier in the Circle K—until his routine takes on a different sense of déjà vu when he witnesses her in the act of being robbed. In “Witches,” a single mom moves with her daughter from Detroit to Albuquerque in order to get a fresh start: hitching a ride with a kind trucker, she gets settled in only to become unsettled again when a Navajo professor who’s befriended her begins to act as if she’s seeing a ghost. And in the understated and resonant tale “Permanence,” a survivor of young romance describes her heady relationship with a former high-school French teacher, a Stanford student, who woos her, drops her, and woos her again—even more intensely—only to reveal himself an utter, unabashed snob.
Many facets of life and love, each polished until it sparkles, in a gem of a collection that pulses with humanity and warmth.