An uneven collection that contains a few outstanding examples of the art of the short story.
To say the collection is uneven is to recognize that the best stories are so strong that the average stories suffer by comparison. It is in the title story, the longest of the collection and packed with enough action for a novel, that the dispassionate narrator attends to several characters in a drama that, summarized, is a hit parade of woe: a lost child, madness, sudden death, suicide. “The Magic Pebble” is exceptional too. The strands of a life unraveled by illness are inspected separately. The narrator, a radio host, talks to and of the people around her on a charter flight to Lourdes (she is doing a story) of her son’s difficulties at school and of the first trip she made after in-patient chemo. This little vacation to Lake Powell goes horribly wrong, and we wonder why Trueblood is not writing stories of fishing or whaling, so superb are her observations of icy, unforgiving water. She excels at the vignette. “Downward Dog,” “The Stabbed Boy” and “Street of Dreams” are no more than four pages each, and yet they insinuate themselves with a minimum of detail—they resonate. The weaker narratives are clotted; there is an excess of observation, action, explanation. This is true of “Guatemala” and “The Blue Grotto,” where the end seems another, less effective, iteration of the powerful end of “Search Party.”
Trueblood (Mary or Burn, 2010, etc.) is a writer to follow.