By Claire Vaye Watkins
Brilliant. It's the range that is evident from story to story that is particularly impressive.
One story describes a 60 year old man who finds a young female teenager abandoned in the middle of a dried out lake. Another portrays a pregnant woman, hung-up on an old boyfriend and scared of becoming like her mother. Yet another describes the dynamics between a teenager female and her best friends, a male and a female.
All of the characters are unique with varied personalities, neuroses and fears, yet remain realistic. In addition, each story varies in pace, tone and structure, which fits each story and character and yet providing a refreshingly different emotional turn.
A few quotes from different stories to illustrate the point:
I cried and cried on a bench outside the Asian white rhino exhibit after seeing the marks in the enclosure where the rhino had worn his horn down to a stump, scraping it against concrete sculpted to look like mud. It was foggy at the zoo, and Peter sat silent besides me while I cried, his large hand on the small of my back, light as the fog mist on my skin. People walking by probably thought he'd broken my heart, when it likely the other way around. We sat like that for a long time before he said, What's wrong?
Just the same old thing, I said.
And he said finally, Ecosystems are complex things, Catie.
A blackened sheet of baking parchment floats in a dish of hot grease. The grease has a name, and as our girl tells the story this name will return to her, along with other details of this place, which had until now left her - the flatulent smell from a newly opened bag of sausage, the flimsy yellowed plastic covering the computer keyboards and phone keypads, the serrated edge of a cardboard box slicing her index finger nearly to the bone. Naked in her own bed with a man for whom she feels too much too soon, our girl will recall the name of the grease - Whirl, it was called - and the then-exquisite possibility of searing off her fingerprints.
Lena, her friend, finally pulls her hands from the rack, shaking the sting from them. You win, she says.
Our girl waits a beat, gloating, then lifts her palms from the surface, lustrous with heat. She folds a pepperoni disk into her mouth. Let's go again, she says.
As soon as Carter and Marin learn they've conceived the child, they begin to argue about it. What will they feed it, what will they teach it, what of this world will they allow it to see? They fight about these things before the child is more than a wafer of cells. Before the child is anything, it is a catalyst for fights.Just about the only common thread that runs through these stories is the setting of the American West, which harsh and dusty atmosphere plays an invisible force driving many of these characters.
All in all, I'll be picking up more of Watkins' works.