Debut collection delineating the tribulations of boyhood, and how they define a man.
Set in Wisconsin, these ten stories feature an upper-Midwestern landscape’s deep snow drifts, acres of farmland and encroaching suburbs, which play a defining role in the characters’ lives. “Puberty” shows an adolescent finding both sexual enlightenment and retributive justice in a strategically planted climbing tree. In “Black Earth, Early Winter Morning,” a 16-year-old boy must reconsider all the advice his older cousin has given him about the value of country living when a tower of improperly stacked hay bales falls on his mentor. Dan Oxford, protagonist of “The Future, the Future, the Future,” has a wife, a good job, a child on the way and a 30-year mortgage locked in at a good rate; now that he’s achieved all the goals he set for himself in college, he decides to mark his accomplishment by skiing an expert slope he can’t handle. The collection features many action scenes, most of them well-written: a boy with his hands in his pockets cannot save himself from a disfiguring fall (“So Long, Anyway”); a drowning student disrupts a swimming class (“Crow Moon”); a widower on an emotional rampage caroms down a ski slope on a stolen sled (“The Cold War”). But sometimes the author pushes action to comic-book extremes, as in “English Cousin,” which shows a bully goading a boy to climb down a chimney and surprise two lovers (he gets stuck), or “Trouble and the Shadowy Deathblow,” narrated by a snack-food specialist who attends a convention in San Francisco, where a homeless man teaches him a killing maneuver. The most powerful stories here are more quietly observed. “The Train” is a vignette about a group of boys who visit an abandoned granary at midnight on Halloween. “The Whales” features the same characters walking at night to a park by a lonesome county highway.
A new talent in need of some honing.