The 13 stories in David Gordon’s new collection, White Tiger on Snow Mountain, are like the arms of a spiral-shaped galaxy, rotating timelessly around some enormous black hole. Each story, told in the first person, feels part of some odd configuration—and as you read them, the question recurs: Could the narrator of this story and that, or even of all of them, be one and the same person?
Gordon’s stories explore everything from self-effacing domestic loserdom to near-death-induced time travel to balancing the benefits of acupuncture with erotic instant messaging. In “I, Gentile,” the nonpracticing Jewish narrator takes a job turning on the lights at an Orthodox synagogue on Shabbos and quickly falls in love with the rabbi’s daughter. An ex-hitman recounts a final and very personal job in New Jersey to a stranger at a café in Paris in “The Amateur.” In “We Happy Few,” a failed professor becomes a ward to a drug-addicted young literary superstar.
Despite this mix and range, narrative resonances build up. On the first page of the first story, “Man-Boob Summer,” the narrator mentions that he lived in Manhattan until his landlady died and the building was sold, that he was once married and that he won a dining room set in the divorce settlement. Some 50 pages later, the narrator of “What I’ve Been Trying to Do All This Time,” in a meta turn here named David Gordon, says, “My wife left me for someone who she said better understood her needs. I moved to New York.” A flashback in “Retrospective” takes the narrator from New York back to the final scenes of his marriage’s dissipation in Los Angeles—and so on.
But White Tiger on Snow Mountain “definitely was not conceived of as a linked collection,” Gordon says. “Although, in a kind of scary way, I think these links occurred on their own. Whatever kinds of linkages there are, they’re really organic.” It feels especially human that the various stories here might be subconsciously related to one another across the span of time between their telling, and Gordon embraces the echoes, playing and building off of them. “Some of these stories I hadn’t looked at in years, and then my editor would say, ‘You know, all these people seem to be going to the same café.’ ”
Gordon compares his book to an album. “Most of the time, the songs in an album are not going to be about the same person or same thing. But, most of the time, the band is putting out an object—these 12 songs that bounce off each other.” Like an album, White Tiger on Snow Mountain sustains a set of concerns—about how life gets in the way of people connecting, about how other people often seem to have a better sense of who you are than you do yourself—that seem of a piece with Gordon’s process of writing these stories over a number of years.
In each story, Gordon attempts to fix a moment in writing, but he also attempts to capture the feeling of it passing by. “In a story like the title story, it’s very much about these kinds of fleeting, almost momentary connections that people make with one another,” Gordon says. “Two minutes online is as close as two people are ever going to get.” This might be the black hole at the center of the book: “I think in many ways, whether it’s with ideas of ghosts and reincarnation, or whether it has to do, black comically, with people hooking up and leaving each other, that’s something in common in what I write: of something present and at the same time disappearing.”
Walter Heymann is a freelance writer and screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles.