Though it’s taken a while for veteran poet/novelist Dobyns (Boy in the Water, 1999, etc.) to get around to his first volume of short fiction, the 16 stories here are well worth the wait.
Like so many other folks these days, Dobyns’s heroes (and, occasionally, heroines) are leading lives of quiet desperation until something makes them jump their groove: developing a friendship with the man they’re cuckolding; enduring electroshock treatments that awaken them to the moral consequences of their cruel pranks; having to deal with a son depressed over the car crash that killed a friend, or with a visiting professor who won’t check out of the motel room his hosts are paying for. But instead of killing themselves or each other, Dobyns’s suddenly disenfranchised players, like Raymond Carver’s, flip out in far more inventive, less fatal ways. When her poet husband Jason dies after a freak encounter with a falling pig, his widow, stung by the way everyone refashions Jason as the poet who was killed by a pig, eventually uses his risible reputation to escape the burden of grieving. A backwoods farmer who insists that his gas man’s broken leg must be a divine punishment forces the angry, hurting gas man to reexamine his deeds as he lies on the farmer’s basement floor. A boy haunted for life by his meeting with a farmer on the way to kill his wife and her lover ends in death haunting his own son in much the same way. And in the title story, a meet-cute over a dead deer briefly provokes an estranged husband to a bout of tonic atavism before he skips just as abruptly back into his groove.
Forget the overexplicit morals Dobyns tacks onto so many of these tales (e.g., “Writing . . . took a jumble of information, arranged the pieces, and turned it into a mystery”) and let them work their considerable magic.