Eight stories that give voice to incommunicable aspects of love and loss.
Graley (Box of Blue Horses, 2013) sets these eight stories in Appalachia. Her characters are closely connected with the natural world; they chop wood, plow fields, and raise goats. Indeed, nature—its constant demands, its force, and its beauty—catalyzes much of the action in this collection. In the title story, a boy nearly drowns in a river. Though he survives, the incident quietly shifts the course of his life. In “Burying Ground,” characters gather to bury an old friend and discover that something is already buried in his plot. As Graley traces the history of relationships between neighbors, spouses, and families across generations, she reveals their attempts to not only commune with nature, but through it. At times, the metaphors can become a bit heavy. In “Heartwood,” a father with a failing heart describes the resilient but dead bark at the center of a tree to the adult child he does not fully understand. Most often, however, the parallels resonate profoundly. One particularly memorable piece opens with the sudden, violent illness of two dogs. A neighbor contemplates what, if anything, he can do to help the owner through it. “There are some sorrows you can’t enter....So I tell myself,” he says, articulating a unifying theme of the book.
A subtle, powerful portrait of the strength and limits of human connectedness.