From novelist Winegardner (Crooked River Burning, 2001, etc.), a debut collection of 13 stories, mostly set in Cleveland or the rural Midwest.
There’s a gritty realism to Winegardner’s tales that never lets them sink into the airy pointlessness of so much contemporary academic fiction, partly because his characters tend to be blue-collar midwesterners rather than eastern intellectuals. Harry Kreevich, in “Thirty-Year-Old Women Do Not Always Come Home,” is a Croatian-American from Cleveland who runs a bowling alley and becomes concerned when one of his lane girls disappears mysteriously. The nameless heroine of “Song for a Certain Girl,” on the other hand, is a country-bumpkin Baptist from backwoods Ohio who is so innocent that she doesn’t know how to consummate her marriage. There are some smarty-pants types too, of course, but Winegardner doesn’t let us take them too seriously. Murtaugh, the philandering professor in “The Visiting Poet,” is an oaf, pure and simple—a has-been writer whose life revolves around seducing his students—until a jilted colleague blows the whistle on him to the sexual-harassment board. In “The Untenured Lecturer,” we meet Phil Workman, another campus hack, who is more of a sad sack than a buffoon (“There was once an earnest man who, in his late thirties, had a heart attack, remarried, bought a high-end personal computer, left his job as a statehouse reporter, and, despite a lack of talent, was admitted to a creative-writing program at a big concrete university in one of the rectangular states, where he wrote the longest master’s thesis in school history”). The real virtue here is that Winegardner is able to portray an ordinary but intriguing world that’s rarely the subject of literary fiction—as in “Last Love Song at the Valentine,” which sketches an entire generation in the life of a small town by following the history of its one drive-in theater.
A short string of gems in a beautifully constructed and well-ordered collection.