Bleak but sometimes funny tales show Lychack’s (The Wasp Eater, 2004) knack for ellipses, pushing readers to fill in deliberate narrative and stylistic omissions.
The book opens with “Stolpestad,” perhaps the most brutal story in a collection that doesn’t shy away from desolation. Other pieces cover an impressive range of emotional and imaginative territory: A woman buys chicks in the hope of raising chickens and getting fresh eggs only to find herself engaged in a perverse struggle with a mostly male brood and her skeptical husband; a couple’s quest for help butchering the deer they strike with their car reveals their own emotional wounds. Narratives combine to illuminate a rural, small-town world where women phone the American Legion or Elks halls to call drunk husbands home, and where damaged characters gaze on one another with wantonness, judgment and need. The moods are many and varied: There’s the sad reverie of an old woman visiting family following the death of her husband; the melancholy prophecy of a plant hybridizer’s wife anticipating his death; and a fabulist triptych, about a beloved teacher who comes from the sea, that touches on themes of loss, transformation and transcendence.
The disciplined storytelling and barbed wit strike a fine balance.