With an honest voice and abundant imagination, Rourks’ Southern gothic debut explores human kinship, violence, and isolation in rural Louisiana.
“There really isn’t anything astonishing about the moon trees,” says the narrator of the title story in this mighty debut. “As a matter of fact, some of them are lost. No one bothered to keep track of where they’d been planted, had never even made the plaques.” Much like these trees—their once-valued seeds taken into space to orbit the Earth—the characters in Rourks’ 15 inventive stories have been forgotten by society; on the surface, they’ve been left simply to grow, work, fight the elements, then die along the swamplands of Louisiana. “Everything Shining,” for example, describes the life of a laid-off, injured oil rig laborer. As he struggles to make sense of his new life, he begrudgingly lets his cousin store stolen scrap metal in his backyard, unaware of the disastrous consequences that will follow. In “Ghosts,” a woman fixates on the events leading up to her mother’s suicide as she prepares to meet her wife’s family and to give birth to a child of her own. While in “Pinched Magnolias,” a parish sheriff helps her sister cover up a violent crime, in “El Feo,” an ex-con works to build a new life for his family, even when he suspects he might have been framed for murder. With these stories, Rourks creates literary “plaques” for her characters—carving out space for and drawing attention to their experiences whether they are Pizza Hut employees, lawbreakers, or those too afraid to leave the house. Through her dynamic prose—graceful even as it propels each piece forward—she realizes the humanity of each individual. Themes of poverty, anguish, violence, and family loyalty—for better or worse—tie together these short tales. Still, amid such bleakness, Rourks infuses a sort of magic into each one. These worlds, alive with both the nature of Louisiana and the empathy the author brings to each character, will leave you eager for more.
An astonishing—often suspenseful, always compassionate—depiction of humanity and the ties that bind us.