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by Jack Driscoll

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-87023-808-6

The latest winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award for Short Fiction, about working-class fathers and sons: a collection of 17 stories—hard-luck fiction with a vengeance—set mostly in northern Michigan. Loss and violence season a number of these pieces. In the title story, a boy drowns when he tries to swim underwater from one ice-fishing shanty to another, and the narrator, a boy who survives to tell the tale, understands that the drowning victim, Ashelby Judge, knew about storytelling: ``Judge said you could measure a story by its private disclosures, by how far a person came forward to confess a part of himself, asking for forgiveness.'' Driscoll takes such an aesthetic to heart, whether writing (in ``Pig and Lobsters'') about a single father who falls for a woman only to be stood up, whereupon (witnessed by his son) he kills a pig and sidearms a lobster ``as hard as he could against the unpainted boards''; or about a father and son (in ``Death Parts'') who shoot a bear but must trade it for auto parts when their car breaks down. Many narrators here, in fact, are driven to do what they do by such family relationships. In ``Flee to Jesus,'' a father prone to crackups is hired to kill deer that are destroying fruit trees, and the son comes to see his own impotence: ``I never learned how to prevent his crackups, how to intervene early and stave off the madness.'' These sons learn how essential forgiveness is, as well as how important the crucible of plot can be: ``Good writing should make your reader's knees go weak.'' Driscoll occasionally contrives an action or implausibly forces a character into weirdness, but mostly the weirdness comes naturally. An impressive, gritty northern Michigan version of Andre Dubus.