The quiet plains of the North Country serve as a perfect backdrop for Parsons’ moving debut, a collection of short stories whose characters often live deeply solitary, if not always lonely, lives.
In the introductory story, “Hezekiah Number Three,” a young Bangladeshi-American tries to escape the confines of his small-town South Dakota upbringing by going to MIT for college, only to return when his family falls apart. While the reasons for Naseem Sayem’s alienation might be readily attributed to his being the only “caramel-skinned Bangladeshi” in school, Parsons expertly shows how loneliness isn’t only a product of racial tension. In “Beginning With Minneapolis,” for example, Evie Lund Baker finds her marriage to a wheat farmer stifling enough to move to the big city, leaving her husband, Waylon Baker, to tend to the wheat by himself. But Evie is haunted by a sense of disillusionment even in Minneapolis, where she has stretched an interim job “like pie dough across the last eight years.” Now, she “question[s] if she would ever slice through to what was cooking underneath.” Elsewhere, the narrator in the title story, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, attends school at the University of Minnesota so he can get a “clean break in a place where I didn’t own a wisp of history.” But, as the saying goes, you can run but you can’t hide. History chisels these characters’ lives to such an extent that they often become strangers to themselves, having arrived at a station they never envisioned and can’t easily recognize. “Touch is silent,” says a character in “The Sense of Touch.” “And silence is the only way to contemplate infinite things.” The glorious prairie landscape serves to amplify this silence, the starkness a crisp metaphor for the characters’ myriad disappointments. Black Hills National Forest, the endless prairie, even snow-bound Minneapolis—each is a perfect setting for these achingly beautiful stories. Not all Parsons’ characters face existential questions, though; many are just fine moving along with a steely resolve.
Insightful stories that illuminate the fine line between solitude and loneliness and the limited choices open to people who straddle that divide.