Short stories on ranching and relationships.
Linse grew up on a ranch in Wyoming, broke her leg at 4 and a horse at 12. While her debut collection of stories spans 15 years of writing and vast narrative terrain, she never strays far from her roots. The folks who swagger and steal through these stories are tough; they’ve had it tough, but Linse carries them handily. In the title story, Birdie Gunderson is a farm girl but sees herself as neither girl nor boy but “an efficient cog in the machinery of the farm.” The story reads as a series of affirmations as a teenager struggles for identity amid the forces of society and tradition. Linse vividly renders the story with details likely gleaned from experience: using bag balm for cow teats as lip gloss; pollinating tomato plants at sunset. Strong women and girls dominate the collection. In “Nose to the Fence,” 14-year-old Cindy breaks in horses and city boys with arms made muscular by bailing hay. In “Mouse,” a 10-year-old rescues baby mice from the irrigation ditch but accepts their fate and dispatches each one with a heavy stone. Though less nuanced, Linse’s male narrators still hold the stories together. “Revelations,” for example, is full of bravado: With disjointed dialogue, three friends vie for control over women, nature and each other. “Hard Men” opens in perfect, deranged passion: Teenage Johnny has shot his father; the pizza man decomposes in the bathtub; Linse deftly sets the scene, weaves in back story, and adds a waft of bacon and the feel of blood through Scotchgarded carpet. Like most of Linse’s characters, Johnny is clever, and he wrangles the unfathomable to a rational end. But the end comes too soon—Johnny raises more questions than several pages can answer, as do Cindy, Mouse, Birdie and others. Linse writes as if flexing her own ranch-toned muscles, creating intense, original characters and letting them loose. The result could fill a novel—or two. All bodes well for Linse’s future work.
A slim volume packed with rugged tales and smart, brawny characters.