Life presents unexpected changes and romantic entanglements for characters populating this short story collection.
This book opens with “The Cow That Jumped Over the Moon,” in which Melvin and Doreen McCook move from Phoenix to Bethel, Colorado, to buy and run a movie theater. Unfortunately, the theater doesn’t make much profit, as it’s 1980, during the rise of home media. But things change after Melvin saves a cow at a cattle auction; his new bovine companion becomes a local celebrity who may draw some business. J.D. Carpenter is likewise struggling with his small-town newspaper in “Dusty Feet,” also set in Bethel. He ultimately comes to the aid of Kofi Abel, an Ethiopian in town, to find Pad Hornung. Kofi knows Pad from his missionary work. But Kofi inadvertently stirs up J.D.’s past, including his two failed marriages. Other characters face tribulations far from home. Winston, for example, of “The Call of the Russalki,” is isolated in the South China Sea for a site survey. He’s surprised when he sees another boat; according to the skipper, it’s a scientific expedition, which entails an unusual, all-female crew, each clad in bikini tops and shorts. This tale is followed by “Christmas in July.” In it, Mason Morrison is an American writer in London who starts volunteering at Lulworth Court, essentially a nonprofit holiday spot for the disabled. But what’s Mason to do when his fling with a volunteer becomes something more?
Gore’s (Ghosting the Willamette, 2017, etc.) book is an appealing, often endearing collection of nine stories. The majority of the characters are immensely likable. Melvin is so worried about Doreen’s reaction to his cattle purchase, as they’re financially strapped, that he avoids her for as long as possible. He even names the cow Emma, after a beloved girlfriend who died in an auto accident decades ago. Similarly, young Orion of “Tutledge” is a junior ranger who keeps an eye on his town’s wooded area via his watch tower (in actuality, a hay loft). The author writes in an uncomplicated, grounded style that adds credibility to the characters and tales. For example, romance in “Christmas” is a combination of lyricism and mere observation: “They looked up at the clouds moving across the darkening sky, and at some point, her hand found its way into his.” This further applies to humor throughout the book as well as occasional hints of the otherworldly. Comedy comes in the form of largely familiar situations, such as the mother in “The Great Rabbit Round-up,” who embodies her typical anger by clomping around in her novelty pair of Dutch wooden shoes. Likewise, there are a few instances of something seemingly supernatural, but they are ambiguous and could be merely taking place inside characters’ heads. Serious topical issues do crop up in the stories, and Gore wisely doesn’t treat them mildly. The most notable of these is “Tick!” about a boy with an apparent mental disorder who deals with tactless neighbors.
An impressive assortment of lithe, charming tales.