Hidden guilt, festering sins and the need to bring old wounds into the cleansing sunlight drive the protagonists in Walker’s collection of stories that explores ideas of responsibility and forgiveness with a critical but compassionate eye.
In this universe, men face aspects of themselves of which they were once proud, but those aspects have now cost them a great deal. A tough former assistant district attorney mourns his son’s suicide and looks into his past to find an incident with another boy that helped form a hardness in himself; a community college English instructor becomes ashamed of his proclivity for insulting others and seeks atonement through an unusual form of bingo; a retired naval officer, reeling from the death of his wife, tries to reconnect with his daughter while dealing with his fear of being alone. Circumstances force each of these men—which all of the protagonists are—to confront themselves, and in Walker’s cleareyed, unsentimental prose, they emerge from their experiences changed, though not always for the better. The thematic links are obvious almost to the point of being simplistic, but through his precise construction and observant point of view, Walker saves his stories from tilting into patronization. Although his protagonists have specific ideas about themselves—and in the cases of Milton from “Making Amends” and Phil from “The Lap Dancer,” sometimes delusional ones—they each manage to open their eyes, albeit with significant help in some cases. They take steps to rectify their faults or at least acknowledge them. While Walker’s prose is never flashy, his careful grounding of details and patient efforts in constructing character and setting create a universe of flaws and possibilities, and his stories unfold with a cumulative, occasionally wrenching emotional effect.
A compelling look at guilt and absolution and the cost of each to wounded men.