The male mind in all manners of disarray takes center stage in Amdahl’s solid collection.
The title story opens with a hockey player’s memory of having his teeth knocked out—the sort of thing that happens fairly often to Amdahl’s characters. Violence pervades these stories, from the struggles of a schizophrenic wrestler in “The Flyweight” to the brutal union battles of “The Free Fall” to a murderous Green Beret in “Narrow Road to the Deep North.” It’s less a subject, though, than a symptom. At root, these are rages born of impotence, the frustrated, furious flailings of men who have come to realize—sometimes consciously, sometimes not—that what they’ve long suspected is true: The world is at best an indifferent place, and they have little dominion over it. “The Barber-Chair” details the collapse of a relationship in the aftermath of a tragic sledding accident. In “The Volunteer,” a man finds himself setting fire to a pair of $50 bills he can scarcely spare in a desperate, doomed attempt at asserting himself after a physical humiliation. “Flight From California” follows a man as he drives cross-country with a dying dog in a flagging Escort, fleeing the state’s strange energy and the vague cloud of anxiety that has troubled him there. These are characters in transition, men forced, often suddenly, to contend with the gap between their delicate illusions of self and the realities at hand. Amdahl captures these battles in precise, gorgeous language, conjuring up in his best stories imagery that, with its beauty and physicality and violence, stays with the reader
Consistently fine, with a few flashes of greatness.