Sadness and dread predominate in a wise debut collection of men on the search for meaning amid various incarnations of solitude. The author’s short fiction has also appeared in, among other places, Best New American Voices 2001.
Place battles identity throughout: trouble brews in the near-novella “Winter Island” when narrator Gabe sees a pig flying over the New England valley he has adopted as his home—and then things get more interesting when other people start seeing the pig too and plagues begin descending on the immaculate land. The ability of disease and pain to botch even the most perfect forms of happiness and love is a common theme: in “Near to Gone,” one man at an emotional crossroads looks for knowledge from another whose job is to watch an exposed power line; in “They Have Numbered All My Bones,” the hackneyed premise of a man remembering love while undergoing surgery is surprisingly effective at generating non-hackneyed romance; in “Darkening of the World,” a quasi-mystical pooch comes to extract human love more efficiently than either child or spouse; and in “Blood Knot,” fly-fishing is once again employed as a metaphor for everything. Westmoreland’s men are almost always crude and primitive, often terminally ill, but conveniently well-read. Animals—livestock, dogs, fish—frequently bear their pain. Occasionally, the tone slips into something more like journal-writing, but the odd transcendent moment may be worth it. There are some familiar young writer’s mistakes: an excess of loyalty to models like Hemingway, and plot twists where mood could carry us through. Still, between the lines is a complete vision of a world broken by displacement and bad luck, a sadness that is never so perfect as when 20 cows are executed for dehydration just before a rain-bringing storm.
Strong work from a new voice still seeking a personal purchase.