A dozen stories that mash up poetic, dreamlike observations with the caustic, inbred hardiness of New Englanders.
Harmon (Quinnehtukqut, 2007, etc.) writes stories that feel rooted in his poetry background, and many read more like dream diaries than traditional narratives. For the most part, they focus on the perils of youth and the indignities of old age. In the opener, “Rope,” two sisters imagine that their brother has run away to the woods, where he keeps a girl tied to a tree with a rope he stole from a neighbor. “The Burning House” is representative of the prose style at work: “I am no longer sure of memory, of the flashes I see and also of the gaps where I know things are missing; if what I recall is recalled for any reason beyond the telling,” Harmon writes. Some, like the title story and its follow-up, “Hattie Dalton,” are sketches lasting only a few pages. Others, like “The Lighthouse Keeper”—a story told in abstract definitions of places and characters in a small town—or “Dear Oklahoma,” an ode to home, are linguistically experimental but not all that interesting. That said, the collection has a breakout story or two, such as the lengthy confession of a fisherman living in exile, “The Fisherman and His Wife.” The book also improves when Harmon takes a more straightforward approach. This is especially true in the collection’s showpiece, “The Passion of Asa Fitch,” a spectacular portrait of a cantankerous old SOB burdened with the remainder of his wits and a flirtatious spirit that refuses to go gracefully into the night.
A mixed bag of experimental writing and rural fables mostly aimed at readers who frequent the high-end literary journals on a regular basis.