Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

book by Wells Tower

annotation by Kate Maruyama

Short story collections are a tricky read. It’s difficult for one author to maintain the energy to move a collection along at the same reading pace as a novel. Frequently when reading a collection, I will put the book down every story or two, read entire other books and then go back to it when I’m strong enough to do more.

But with Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower creates so many different voices so vividly that every new story is a new journey, has a different arc, a different pace or circumstance, and varies in voice in a way that I’ve never seen in one writer before. Here is a writer who pays attention to voice in meticulous detail: how each character talks and what this says about him or her, within narration, monologues or in dialogue.

I was fortunate enough to hear a reading and Q & A with the writer while at the Wesleyan Writers’ Conference last month. Tower had interviewed a man on a homeless basketball team while doing a larger story for a magazine. He  truncated two or three days of interviews into this man’s brick-face (Gabriel Garcia-Marquez spoke to the Paris Review of telling stories like his grandmother, with a “brick face,” letting the story do the work) account of his life. Tower captured not only his delivery and cadence, but the man’s character through how he talked and how plainly he stated the incredible life-changing things that happened to him.

It was this reading and Q &A that I took back to the book, and I turned my writers’ eye to the reading—this was a task, as the stories are brilliant at sucking you in and carrying you along seamlessly. The reason each of these many characters, from an aging huntsman to a teenage girl to a raiding Viking to a small boy—is so completely alive, was that each voice was utterly distinct and singular. Each voice told us more about the characters than their actions.

In “Wild America” Tower tells the story of two cousins, Jacey and Maya and, after describing their closeness through childhood, sums up their characters from Jacey’s point of view:

“Three weeks shy of sixteen, Maya had evolved into a five-foot-ten-inch mantis of legendary poise and ballet repute, while Jacey still went round with a shiny chin and forehead and a figure like a pickle jar.” (151)

In one sentence he nails a very female mortification of puberty, teenagehood, feelings of inadequacies, cousin comparison and awkwardness. By the second page of the story, because of her strong voice, we are fully in Jacey’s smack-talking but articulate court and are ready to follow her wherever she takes us.

But not every voice is articulate or careful, because that would be too easy. We learn so much about our narrator in the halting opening lines of “Door in Your Eye.”

“My daughter, the very first night I was in her house, she wanted right off to put me in a state of fear. I was not even through with my soup when she came out, very excited, with a stack of photographs.”(131)

We aren’t told until several pages later, about two thirds of the way through the story, that our narrator is in his early eighties. It’s his view on life, his spying on the neighbor woman whom he believes is a hooker, the manner in which he comes to conclusions and the peculiar way he puts things that brings him to life and brings us his age.

“I wanted so much to see the woman that I stayed on the porch for many hours, doing my art…I don’t know how the woman stood all the work she was doing. Men toe-ed and fro-ed along her steps all day and night, but in three days of watching, I hadn’t seen her.”(137)

But it’s not only in the voice of his narrators that Tower excels. He manages to bring a variety of characters into scenarios and bang them up against each other at high speeds. This captures, so accurately how chance gatherings work in life, how haphazard conversations can become and how everyone is not always being heard.

In “Executors of Important Energies,” Tower introduces us to a man and his father, who has Alzheimers, his stepmother who has a leaky eye which she explains, “Big Iranian bitch on my volleyball team. Stuck her finger down my eye. Seeing double now” (73)—just the use of the word “down” instead of “in” and her truncated explanation tell us so much about this woman—and Dwayne, a park chess-hustling, ex-trumpet player who lives in his car.

Dwayne’s take on hustling chess is carefully put, “Well, the game is a lucrative addiction. In my soul, I am a musician.”(79) Dwayne later explains,

“I did blow for Kenny (Loggins) on the European tour. My wife and me, we also blessed his outfit with some very beautiful backing vocals. Saw all the top destinations, stayed in fine hotels, rode all the major airlines, Qantas, Virgin Atlantic. I’m glad you brought it up. That was a happy time of life.” (81)

Dwayne’s gentle voice and his specific choice of words betray a man taking careful advantage of the very brief window in these self-absorbed people’s conversation to explain that he is much more than the chess hustler they made him out to be. This moment and this voice are an important setup to the end of the story, which I leave you to find on your own.

The careful work in Tower’s characterization, dialogue and voice made me stop in my tracks.  I find that my characters’ voices emerge from somewhere in my head, and as I revise my work I sort out inconsistencies (“that person wouldn’t say this”), and try to “listen” to them a bit further. But Everything Ravaged had me thinking about these voices in a new way, and of the many questions I hadn’t asked of my characters–reasons for their speech patterns, their history of interactions with other characters and their social backgrounds. Voice goes beyond verbal tics, it goes into the depth of character, character history, age and background, whether portraying a story in first person or in close third person or, as Tower uses in “The Leopard,” second person.

Tower has a knack for endings I haven’t seen before. So many short stories I read go to full closure, full redemption for their characters—the character changed, which is something repeated so often by writing teachers, but is not always the best place to leave a story.  Sometimes these people are never going to change, sometimes they are still on the same trajectory where we found them, or perhaps just about to step off it. Sometimes they wander around in the place in life where they are stuck and we are left to come to our own conclusions. And leaving a number of stories in different places throughout  this collection gave me more to chew on when I came away from each story. It recreated that feeling we so often get in life when friends wander out of our realm of consciousness. And we wonder…and that wondering brings them closer in our minds than perhaps an ending (happy or otherwise) or full closure would have. These characters are rattling around in my head a week after reading the collection.

I don’t want to go back to stories I’ve written and chop off the endings, because that’s not what happened here. These stories are very much complete. But Tower gives us a freedom to explore our characters’ lives in a messier, less pat way. To explore more natural patterns in conversation and in storytelling.

As to the title story, “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned,” I will need to leave it unexplored for your total enjoyment. Two accomplished writers I talked to who had read the collection asked eagerly, “Did you read the last story?” when I answered no, they both, at different times, shook their heads and said, “Read the last story…” Let’s just say it would need its own annotation and denying you the pleasure of that first unadulterated read would be criminal on my part.

Tower reminds us to listen. Maybe if we listen to people we encounter all the way, their tone and cadence will hold for us not only what area they’re from, but their upbringing, workplace, manner in which they relate to other people, insecurities and larger story. It is often how someone puts their personal monologue that tells us more than the words they are putting forth. Dialogue and narrator voice are not just something to let us know who characters are, they can carry layers of story within the larger story we tell. It is how our characters look at what is happening to them that reveals those careful slices of human-ness outside of the story.

So, when you’re out at a restaurant, a shop, at a party, or meeting new people remember to listen all the way, like the narrator of “Down Through the Valley” does as he catches an offhand conversation between two locals:

The waitress went by, and the boy called out to her. “Hey, Jenny. Your tits look happy tonight.”

“Yeah, well they’re crying on the inside,” she told him over her shoulder. (105)

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The Girl in the Flammable Skirt

book by Aimee Bender

annotation by Lee Stoops

“He wondered: was it possible to die simply from an absence of tempo?”

~ Aimee Bender, “Fugue” from The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (89)

Magic realism and Aimee Bender go together like religious figures and jokes about the bars into which they walk. But the label “Magic Realism” doesn’t necessarily help Bender’s reputation. Underneath the absurd, impossible, strange elements of her stories is creative, brave, emotionally-tissued writing. Readers and writing students read Bender because other readers and writing students talk about how interesting and bizarre the content of her stories is, but what they get is more than expected – and usually realized. Bender, through the use of fantastical characters and magical circumstances, quietly, almost as if she is intentionally distracting her audience from enviable crafting, delivers unflinching prose and humanity at its most vulnerable to create stories that slip painlessly into the imagination, where they can fester without hope of ever being forgotten.

Bender’s language is a study in economy. Down to the syllables, she keeps her syntax tight, her sentences direct, and her words to the point. No matter how strange or drawn out a story may get, her prose never strays from that of telling and showing only what needs to be told or shown. That includes eliminating many dialogue tags and quotation marks – reducing everything to its most essential. And, while she writes much of each narrative in passive voice, the circumstances allow for it, especially since most of her stories are told in the first person perspective. The result is a satisfying mix of twisted fairy-tale feel and impassioned, necessary, minimalist, I-was-there-and-need-to-get-it-out-as-quickly-as-I-can-so-I-don’t-forget-it anecdote.

They arrived home at six-fifteen that night; Hannah and I had been concerned – six o’clock marked the start of Worry Time. They announced the double news right away: Daddy’s fine. Mommy’s pregnant.

Are you going to have it? I asked. I like being the youngest, I said. I don’t’ want another kid.

My mother rubbed the back of her neck. Sure, I’ll have it, she said. It’s a special opportunity and I love babies.

My father, on the couch, one had curled up and resting inside his stomach like a birdhead, was in good spirits. We’ll name it after my dad, he said.

If it’s a girl? I asked.

Edwina, he said.

Hannah and I made gagging sounds and he sent us to our rooms for disrespecting Grandpa (41-42, “Marzipan”).

 

Perhaps the element of Bender’s stories that should define them more absolutely than their magical realism is their ardent, yet whispering displays of human vulnerability. How remarkable is it for a reader to relate so deeply to a woman whose lover is reverse evolving, or to a young girl whose father has a giant hole through his abdomen, or to an orphan who can find anything that’s lost with some kind of sixth sense, or to an imp who pretends to be a school boy and falls in love with a mermaid who pretends to be a school girl, and so on. In each story, Bender steeps the reader in human frailty while the reader thinks he or she is steeping in engaging, impossible-to-set-down stories. Bender does not manipulate, she does not camouflage these elements. In fact, it’s these moments of true human desire and starvation that enable the stories. Some examples of heart-rending, shadow-blasting, humanizing lines:

What did I wish for? I wished for good. That’s all. Just good. My wishes became generalized long ago, in childhood; I learned quick the consequence of wishing specific (5, “The Rememberer”).

This is the sex that she wishes would split her open and murder her because she can’t deal with a dead father; she’s wished him dead so many times that now it’s hard to tell the difference between fantasy and reality (58, “Quiet Please”).

…he showed me how he carved letters into his skin. He’d spelled out OUCH on his leg. Raised and white. I put out a hand and touched it and then I walked directly home. It was hard to feel those letters. They still felt like skin (124, “The Healer”).

I want to fuck her by a Dumpster and cut her down, like she’s a tree, I don’t care if she wants me back, I don’t care if so many people back home love her so much (112, “Fell This Girl”).

These lines, like so many in each of her stories, invite readers to get away from the structures of their daily lives and consider how much pain each person suffers, and how deep the cuts go. It is these kinds of reactions Bender is after with her characters and their circumstances. The magic realism forces the reader to get away from the reality of his or her life so that when Bender drops these bombs, the reader is already removed from, and thereby enabled to access differently, his or her own pain, struggle, loss, secret brokenness. This is the true power of short stories, and Bender, it’s clear, takes full advantage.

Craft, magic, humanity, prose, and secrets aside, the most surprising thing Bender’s stories do is inspire. They inspire readers to keep reading and thinking about their lives and how much strangeness exists. More importantly, they inspire writers to write fearlessly. Good short stories should always do this. A powerful short story, short story writer, or collection might make a writer yearn for his or her own short story or collection that changes minds. But this collection, along with Bender’s particular style, not only makes the writer want to write but it gives the writer permission to do it in new ways. To experiment with the strange. To bring something odd and impossible into the mix because it can and will foster change and discomfort. To challenge the rules of story, of narrative. To challenge the boundaries of verisimilitude. Bender, to be sure, writes with this in mind. How wonderful it is to know the writer is not just writing to entertain or change, but to encourage other writers to go freely after the same.

Wild

book by Cheryl Strayed

annotation by Seth Fischer

Editors’ note: We know, this is the fiction page. But we here at Annotation Nation are so pleased by our former mentor Cheryl Strayed’s runaway success with Wild that we wanted to post Seth Fischer’s astute – and nontraditional – annotation of the book on our home page.

It’s been almost three months since I promised this fine publication an annotation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild. I thought it’d be unfair to write a review, as, like nearly every human who’s ever been lucky enough to meet her, I consider Cheryl a friend. Instead, I would write an annotation: an analysis of what Cheryl’s book taught me as a writer. It would be safer that way, and there wouldn’t be any of that awkwardness that comes from reviewing the book of someone you know.

Easy enough, no?

But then something happened, and I got stuck. Wild became a phenomenon. We all knew it would do well. Cheryl is a brilliant writer—her previous novel Torch and a string of Best American essays and her stint as the advice columnist Dear Sugar are testament to that—and she has a superb editor and excellent representation. The book’s storyline — her lonely hike along the Pacific Crest Trail post-divorce, still not recovered from losing her mother and having narrowly avoided heroin addiction — all but guaranteed people would buy it. I mean, at one point in the book, she even has a run-in with a feral bull.

But then the phenomenon started to get out of control. It was glowingly reviewed in the New York Timestwice. The movie rights were optioned by Reese Witherspoon. Then it made the bestseller list for nonfiction. And just last week, Oprah herself decided to restart her book club because of Wild.

Yes, Oprah.

I can’t just ignore all that. I can’t, for the life of me, write a mundane piece on what Wild taught me about pacing and flashbacks. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot for a writer to learn from this book in terms of technique, but given all the fireworks, I couldn’t make myself write a traditional annotation.

I’m going to admit right now, against my better judgment, that Wild’s success made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t quite jealousy, but it also wasn’t quite not jealousy. The success of this book forced me to question my own jaded view of the literary world, and maybe even the world at large. Try as I might to be an idealist, I see the world a bit like Sam Spade. Success doesn’t come to those who deserve it. With a few notable exceptions, only people who lie, cheat, steal and see books as widgets find material success in publishing. As a literary writer, the best you can ever hope to do is throw a few wrenches in the works of a fundamentally screwed-up world, and maybe, if you’re lucky, you can die poor and alone but having made the world suck a little less. In my world, no one will ever reward you materially for being genuine, honest or real, but you should do it anyway, because that’s the point of life.

But there, right in the pages of the New York Times, is a woman whose writing and personality is honest, genuine and real, hugging Oprah, and she succeeded by telling a true story that aims to heal rather than to manipulate. A story whose ending, despite being a memoir, does not end in a trope. Despite the book’s subtitle, Cheryl was never completely lost, and she never was completely found. She doesn’t lie to her readers by giving them an answer or by making it simple. She never makes things easy, especially at the end:

 “It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That it was enough to trust what I’d done was true … How wild it was, to let it be” (311).

And that is absolutely beautiful, that a person whose answer is that there isn’t an answer has been allowed to succeed. In this time when marketing rules all, in this time of easy answers and The Secret and infomercials and branding and douches in suits saying “it is what it is” instead of no, I just don’t know what to do with the fact that something so complex and honest has met with so much success.

Actually, it scares me.

Which is all just to say that I struggled when I read this book. I kept looking for reasons to dismiss it, to prove to myself that there was something dishonest about it, that she had sold out in some way. But then, like most people who’ve read the book, it had an enormous emotional effect on me. I bawled like a baby, but I’ll stop there, because many, many people have spoken to the power of the work more eloquently than I can.

I still found a way to get mad, though, because in creating this phenomenon, Cheryl broke some rules. While I’ve never been a huge fan of rules in life, after studying writing long enough, I learned to respect the rules of writing — maybe more than I should — to the point where I shudder when I see them broken.

The most classic example, for those who you who haven’t done the whole workshop thing, is that adverbs are always bad (except, of course, when they’re not), or that you should avoid too much exposition. But that’s not all of them. There are books full of rules. Many of these rules encourage writers to be understated, to make sure metaphors are uncomplicated and that emotional language is minimized, and those rules stuck with me in a big way.

I taught myself to abide by those rules. Cheryl paid no attention to them. In Wild, Cheryl told those rules exactly what they could do with themselves.

I’ll start with a couple lines about fifty pages into the book, toward the beginning of her journey, when the physical exertion is starting to take its toll.

“I was thinking only of moving myself forward,” she says. “My mind was a crystal vase that contained only that one desire. My body was its opposite, a bag of broken glass” (63).

Ooph. What powerful writing, part of me said. I could feel what she was feeling—forgive me, I’m breaking the no clichés rule here—in my bones.

But then another part of me, the writer, the person who has loved being part of a gazillion writing workshops, was freaking out. “You can’t write that,” I thought. Crystal vases don’t hold desires, and why again was her mind a crystal vase? She was coming pretty damn close to mixing that metaphor — certainly torturing it a bit. And to make matters worse, she’s no slouch, so she knew damn well what she was doing. Why?

Here’s another bit that bugged me, about two thirds of the way through her trek, after she had finally replaced the boots that had turned her feet into a giant open sore: “Going down, I realized, was like taking hold of the loose strand of yarn on a sweater you’d just spent hours knitting and pulling it until the entire sweater unraveled into a pile of string. Hiking the PCT was the maddening effort of knitting that sweater and unraveling it over and over again. As if everything gained was inevitably lost” (222).

Again, as a reader, I felt this passage, I understood her frustration, and I never wanted to hike downhill again. But also, the writer and editor in me thought, “That last line is completely unnecessary. It‘s already inherent in the first two sentences, which, by the way, could be shortened.”

But if it was communicating emotion to me, if it was doing it so well I could feel what she was feeling, why did I care that it broke the rules? And if she had written these bits differently, would it have been more effective?

I don’t think it would have.

Recently, Diane Sherlock posted a question on her blog; “Do you read as a reader or a writer?” In other words, do you pay attention to craft, or do you immerse yourself in the emotional effect the words have on you. I thought about it for a second, and I said, “A writer.” And then I thought, “Well, why the hell am I doing that? The only way to get anywhere is to do both.”

When writers go to school, they’re trained to read as writers; they are trained to think in terms of craft, in terms of timing and dialogue and pacing and characterization. And because of that, many writers seem to have forgotten the point of craft: to find the best ways to emotionally connect with your reader.

To make matters worse, we’re trained to write for writers. Workshops can be invaluable, if we focus on learning how to write with the goal of some sort of emotional connection. But instead, we write to impress our workshop leaders. We write for the other writers in our workshops. We try to prove our chops, to show that we can effectively use our “craft,” and we forget the point of what we’re doing in the first place.

And then we sit around baffled, wondering why no one but writers seems to be buying literature anymore.

Cheryl Strayed uses her voice to emotionally connect with her readers, to use craft towards that end and not in spite of it. Which is all just to say that the lesson Cheryl is giving writers is just as valuable as the story Cheryl is giving readers: Don’t forget that craft is a means to an end, and not simply an end in itself. And if craft gets in the way of your voice, to hell with it.

Volt

book by Alan Heathcock

annotation by Lee Stoops

 “He inhaled deeply and his insides burned, and Vernon knew that all that smoke was now just the air we breathe.”

~ Alan Heathcock, “Smoke” from Volt (60)

Alan Heathcock’s debut collection of short stories drills into readers’ imaginations, digging for every response possible. His narratives compel senses and emotions, his characters beg attention for their eccentric, strange, dark, fleshy human presentations, his words connect to each other with the evidence of careful, precise architecture. Heathcock is a real story-teller, a wordsmith, and a powerhouse writer. It’s no surprise that this first collection has garnered so much attention and earned awards – many of its stories have already shown up in some of the most respected literary journals in the US. Both Heathcock and his stories deserve the success. Through a smart, consistent commingling of character/circumstance development, of steady and committed pacing, and of dedication to craft, Heathcock reaches for the standard of great American story-telling, and maybe even raises the bar a bit.

By the end of the first page of the first story, someone has died. Not just someone; a man’s son. And not just died, but been accidentally killed by the man. A dark, burning image of a young boy, lying in the field like something “fallen from the sky” (3) is the one Heathcock chose to set the tone for his collection, not because the collection is about death or violence or darkness, but because in each and every story, the reader will live with the characters as they react – living, breathing, loving, hating human beings – to strangely familiar (not wholly familiar, but not unfamiliar…maybe anti- or de-familiar?) – circumstances: love, loss, familial ties, sexuality, desperation. It’s the stuff readers want in short stories, but so often don’t get in modern short stories because many modern short story writers are still learning what, exactly, it takes to make a short story a real short story. The results of eager, amateur, or unseasoned short story writing are melodrama, salaciousness, and cliché. Heathcock, a teacher and student of story creation, loves his characters and commits to their circumstances. The result is a series of character-centric events that infects. An example from the short story “Smoke:”

“Maybe the Devil was in you when you did it?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “What’s better anyway, Vernon? To have the Devil in me, or to have it be me alone?”

“You ain’t a bad man, Pop.”

His father shook his head. “We are what we do.”

“You ain’t bad. I believe in that.”

“No, Vernon,” his father said. “I’m about as bad as they come. Now go on and bring Mr. Augusto in here. I need to lay still and be quiet awhile.”

“Mr. Augusto would’ve killed you.”

“Then he’d be the bad man,” his father said, quietly. “Now leave me be awhile, Vernon. Gather wood for a fire. We need lots of wood.”

Vernon studied his father in the milky light, searching for something in his face, or the way he held his body, that was evidence of the good man he knew as a child. If God didn’t want Mr. Augusto dead, why’d he let Pop kill him? With all the killing in the world, did one more man really matter?

Vernon crossed the room and crawled from the shimmering cavern. Maybe awful things is how God speaks to us, Vernon thought, trudging up the lightless tunnel. Maybe folks don’t trust in good things no more. Maybe awful things is all God’s got to remind us he’s alive. Maybe war is God come to life in men. Vernon pushed on toward the light of day. He stepped out onto the ledge and in to the heat, and if felt like leaving a theater after the matinee had shown a sad film, the glare of sunshine after the darkness far too real to suffer (50-51).

After character and circumstance, the element a short story requires to sustain its life and meaning is pace. Heathcock’s stories model methodic, measured tempo – the way a musician might craft the rise and falls of moving instrumentation. The effect is similar in that the reader can settle into the prose and let the story unfold at the speed at which it’s been set. Heathcock engineers the changes in pace with ultimate regard to the characters and their circumstances, without forgetting the reader and the needs he or she will have. In many cases, when tension mounts, Heathcock reigns in the tempo and slows the story – a move that seems contrary to story “rules” but works to the advantage of the experience, permitting the reader time and reason to steep. Heathcock’s gift in this is notable not just because it works in his stories but also because it is so challenging and it speaks to his craftsmanship that he can pull it off without it feeling forced or denuding the stories’ structures or characters. The below excerpt is from just before the end of a long story (“The Daughter”) wherein a mother and her grown daughter struggle to re-establish life after loss, and a troubled neighbor boy has gone missing on their property. The story buzzes the whole way through with ominous, slow energy, and the mystery of the boy’s disappearance sets the tone to dark and somber.

Miriam stepped to the table and swiped the sponge over the trail of salt. “You weren’t in the city,” she said, brushing salt off into her palm. “Where’d you go?”

Evelyn wiped her cheeks on her sleeve. “Don’t’ know what you mean.” She pressed the heel of her hand between her eyes.

Miriam wanted to touch her daughter, to hold her and make her feel right for what she’d done. But Miriam turned away, stepped again to the sink. She rinsed the sponge, watched the water flowing, the salt swirling down the drain.

She shut off the faucet. Snow striking the window was the room’s only sound. “Where’d you put him?” Miriam asked. “Where’d you put that little boy?”

Miriam listened as Evelyn heaved long sighing breaths, each slower, softer, than the last. “Does it matter?” she whimpered.

Miriam quietly gasped. When she looked up from the sink, a face glared back from the window. Night had come early, and she gazed at her bleary reflection in the snow-streaked glass, stared at the room behind her, its faded wallpaper, its watery light, her baby girl slumped at the spot where each morning her mother had sipped her coffee and worked her puzzles (162).

To use the word again, not as recycling but as reiterating, Heathcock is a craftsman. He assembles the skeletons of his stories to support, robustly support, the themes he imbues with his satisfying prose. His language, like his characters, his pace, and his structure, is the obvious result of smart decision-making. There are lines throughout the collection that demonstrate a word-by-word approach to construction. The result is a stylistic pay-off that rewards and informs the themes and architecture of his stories.  Examples of Heathcock’s craftsmanship:

Winslow stepped to the window. The sky hung green. Soon it would snow. The hillside of winter wheat lay swaddled in snow, the rails of freight tracks like silver spears over the wet road (39, “The Staying Freight”).

Black smoke smeared the sky like an oily thumb dragged down pretty paper. In that smoke were brass buttons and blood. Vernon’s eyes burned from smoke. His hands and arms were beaded with soot-black sweat. Smoke clung to his hair, his clothes, his skin. He tasted smoke on his teeth (59, “Smoke”).

This is how I’ll be, she thought. I’ll be this icy hole, this season, this falling snow. I’ll just freeze myself over (80, “Peacekeeper”).

Jorgen could feel himself coming untethered, like he often had over there, where kids slept in the dust and nothing got buried and everything felt like it wasn’t quite real (93, “Furlough”).

His whole life now he’d been awake to feelings a child couldn’t know (110, “Fort Apache”).

Heathcock lands mightily on the short list of contemporary writers who prove that the short story form is not only alive but also that it is well, it is growing, it is coming into its own at a time when readers need more reason than ever to read. And, like his peers, Heathcock inspires other developing writers not by his market success but by his craft commitment, his example, his demonstrating that short stories – real, powerful, well-written short stories – can and are still being written and read. That’s good news for writers, and reason enough to read and write new stories.