Debut collection of nine tenderly polished, horsy stories set in Midwestern farm country.
By far the strongest piece here is the title story, delineating an intimate working friendship between Luther, owner of a horse stable, and his nighttime assistant Maurice, an aging, depressed, has-been jockey who is determined to kill himself in the foaling barn. In fact, Maurice feels suicidal at the end of every foaling season, so when he calls in the middle of the night to convey his plans to hang himself, Luther is not surprised. A touching conversation between the two men ensues in the barn; it reveals their youthful hopes, shattered by disappointments, and is fittingly interrupted by the relentless call to new life of a mare giving birth. Previously published in literary journals, these stories convey a strong sense of rootedness reinforced by Richards’s stoic-toned, pared-down language. In “Man Walking,” a young couple buys a large, rugged farm, planning to make it their home for life. Will and his wife, who narrates the tale, originally planned to destroy the old log farmhouse and rebuild it, but she discovers that it’s inhabited by ghosts, “numbers of them, marching back and forth over her head.” Yet the nightly visitation by the solitary man who enters the couple’s room and stands over their bed amazes and reassures the narrator, rather than frightening her. “The Screened Porch” is a lively, witty set piece about a family of sisters named, simply, “second-oldest sister,” “youngest sister” and so on, in the light-dark manner of a Eudora Welty story. With the introduction into the family of one sister’s husband, a man both “marvelously strange” and familiar to them, the others have to make room on the sofa—a change that will alter their relationships irreparably.
Fine, able etchings from the heartland.