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by Josh Weil

Pub Date: June 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1891-2
Publisher: Grove

Intimacy eludes the misfits in Weil’s debut, three novellas set in the backwoods of Virginia.

In the slight first entry, Ridge Weather, father and son used to tend their five small herds of cattle together. Now it’s all on the son, 38-year-old Osby, for his father has committed suicide. At least he still has the cows for company; his greatest fear is of a solitary entombment. Yet when a middle-aged divorcée offers herself to him, Osby bolts. It’s a superficial story, leaving us wondering about the causes of the father’s suicide and the son’s ingrained isolation. Cause and effect are clear in the second entry, Stillman Wing. The eponymous Wing is a “fear-driven man” because while a child he witnessed the death of his parents, daredevil pilots, in a crash. Fearful of risk, Wing worked for 50 years as a mechanic for a moving-equipment company and failed to tie the knot with the carefree Ginny. His daughter Caroline (Ginny is long gone) has become the new risk-taker. She drives in demolition derbies. She binges, sending her weight to 300 pounds, and craves one-night stands. Wing loves her dearly, but his censoriousness drives her away. Now retired, Wing spends his time restoring a vintage 1928 tractor, his last love. The story is contrived and overly schematic. The third entry, Sarverville Remains, though too long and cluttered, has an undeniable power. Geoffrey Sarver is a mildly retarded gas-station attendant. After his kin, all hill people, disappeared, he was raised in foster homes (Weil captures their smothering condescension). Now 30-ish, Geoff hangs out with some high-school kids. They know a restaurant worker, Linda, who fellates them for free. In his artfully garbled voice, Geoff describes how he and Linda, trapped in a bad marriage, become friends. Their one date ends disastrously when the husband shows up. Geoff loses an eye, yet the showdown is also his long-delayed rite of passage into adulthood.

Weil’s empathy for his damaged people has not yet found a compatible narrative.