Original and accomplished, if at times unsatisfying, Haake’s second collection (after No Reason on Earth, 1986) seeks to break the boundary between story and storyteller.
Eight stories, thematically gathered around earth, fire, and water, depict women wandering amidst the small chaos of their lives, searching for some kind of continuity. Beyond elemental references, Haake’s unusual narrative style is what truly sets the collection apart, although not always in a good way. The pieces often seem part essay and part fiction as the “author” breaks in to comment on her unreliability, on alternate plots she might have chosen, and on the haphazard nature of writing. In “All the Water in the World,” two disillusioned academics escape to the desert, where they try to build a stable haven away from the world. But they’re thwarted, first by the predictable past, when Bitsy’s invalid mother comes to criticize her daughter’s choices, and then by the unpredictable future, when a flood threatens their lives. In one of the more engaging tales, “The Land of Sculpture,” Louann becomes caretaker of a compound of cottages in Malibu, where she makes sculptures and raises her daughter Mindy, who speaks in a language of her own. The story is interrupted by reflections on the nature of brushfires and ends with the destruction of Louann’s home. Or not. (And maybe the story is the interruption.) The most resonant piece here, “The Laying on of Hands,” tells of middle-aged, newly sober Nora, who, despite a baby granddaughter at home, picks up and drives west, stopping at an abandoned shack. Out of pure determination, she begins to build a new life. Haake’s gifts as a writer are obvious, but her narrative acrobatics—however compelling as literary exercises—often distance the characters from their assigned roles and leave the reader more with an idea about storytelling than with an actual story.
Bold and experimental, though not always perfectly enjoyable.