In this debut book of interconnected stories, Corcoran writes fiercely about the lifelong effects of growing up in a small town on those who leave and those who stay.
He sets the scene in “Appalachian Swan Song,” describing the West Virginia hamlet where these stories are set. “We were mountain people,” Corcoran writes. “The mountains were in our voices and on our worn clothes. We were as sturdy as our old oak trees, everlasting, never changing. We were survivors and subsisters.” The core here is the title story, “The Rope Swing,” about a teenage boy frightened of his growing attraction to a male friend. The internal and external conflicts of gay men are a central theme in “Through the Still Hours,” about a man’s yearning to recapture the passions of his youth. The author turns to the lives of women in “Pauly’s Girl,” about a woman rebuilding her life after losing her platonic partner, and “Felicitations,” a story about a pregnant genetic counselor that is Carver-esque in its dry compassion. The remaining stories are mostly about the reverberations our lives have on us. “Hank the King” finds an aging raconteur struggling with the question of whether he is a good man. “Excavation” finds two teens on the verge of graduation descending into an abandoned school slated for demolition. Corcoran finishes off the collection with two deeply personal stories, “Brooklyn, 4 A.M.” and “A Touch,” which are all about the realization that even if we end up far from home, part of that place and time catches up with us. Corcoran is a remarkably empathetic writer whose subtle portraits capture undeniably tender moments in the lives of his characters.
These stories are particularly poignant for anyone who grew up gay in America’s desolate places, but Corcoran speaks eloquently to all facets of the human condition.