The National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner poet goes narrative with a vast pantheon of dimensional characters and quiet fables.
Once upon a time the 45 stories in this collection would have been called short-shorts or “sudden” fiction. In general, Tate’s lovely little pieces transcend the objective of synopsis, but here’s a sampling: “The North Country” details a man’s encounter with paranoia at a distant resort; in “Robes,” a boy’s naiveté begins to crumble when the tallest nun in the world comes to town; “Suite 1306” tells of a drunken businesswoman in a man’s world who sells herself for $1,000 on a whim; a young video store manager contends with sagging ambition in “The Torque-Master of Advanced Video”; “The Journey West” confronts a man with the futility of life in a fantasy of a road trip taken with his dying wife; and “Our Country Cousins” plays on town mouse/country mouse clichés when a rural couple encounters the horror of a highbrow potluck dinner. That’s just the beginning. There are also sadistic cocker spaniels, abandoned llamas, seductresses, presidents, power-mongers, horny doctors, Tourette’s victims, the dying, the dead, and the catatonic, both emotional and literal. These characters are not writers in disguise; they’re real people, their language is real, and their tales have a kind of stealth lyricism. These are stories only in the sense that they are narratives: plot is just a sheen, their soul is poetry. Thematic concerns are broad, but most often an absurd premise leads to the unexpected magic of a docile humanity. Tate is brave enough to avoid standard narrative pyrotechnics, and there are shades of Paul Bowles, Grace Paley, and sometimes Raymond Carver.
After appearing for years in small journals, these wonderful pieces have finally been brought together in a delicious smorgasbord.