Buckingham’s 14 stories about loss, abandonment, and loneliness won the 2016 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction.
Wherever they live, from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Seattle to rural Oregon, the characters here are damaged goods, sometimes to the point of suicidal hopelessness, as in "The Island of Cats,” or merely caricature, like the family of criminals and deadbeats in “The Grandmother’s Vision.” Whether the cause is actual abandonment, as in “Three of Swords,” or a parent’s death, in “How to Make an Island,” the result tends to be a fearful adult like Myer in “Thinking About Carson,” who is unable to sustain a relationship. But not always. One of the most moving stories, “Festival,” concerns two teenage parents, Sheila and Nick, attending a music festival with their baby, Michelle; escaping troubled families, the two seem doomed to fail as parents and as a couple, especially Nick, who meanders through the festival wishing he could return to his former carefree irresponsibility. But as he grudgingly begins to accept the mantle of dependable adulthood, he discovers the grace of loving his child. Less intense is the examination of lost possibilities, represented in the story “Honey” by a dead dog, or of unadorned loneliness examined in the title story about a young woman whose attempt to break up with her boyfriend doesn’t quite work out. The fragility of children figures prominently in some of the best stories. In “My Old Man,” a mother caring for her cancer-ridden 7-year-old son learns to do whatever it takes; “Night Train” weaves a powerful web of memories while exploring a man’s mix of guilt and grief over his son’s accidental death; and in “Blue Plastic Shades,” the travails of a small boy grappling with his mother’s mysterious disappearance and his father, who's lost to grief, gradually soften into a possibility that father and son might heal together.
Though the circumstances here are often dismally bleak, at her best Buckingham offers glimmers of pale but definite hope.