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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A STUNNING DEBUT, July 6, 2012
This review is from: Battleborn (Hardcover)
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Boy, can this woman write! Not every story in this collection is perfect but all of them are good, some in parts, but most all the way through, and the best of them are brilliant, revelatory and scarifying, glimpses into aspects of life that most ordinary folk never see or think of. All of the stories take place in the far West, a land that is still far rawer than most places in our citified, surfaced-civilized nation.

The first story, "Ghosts, Cowboys," takes multiple stabs at presenting a history of a place, then devolves into the tale of a woman whose father, her mother told her before she died, was Charles Manson's "number one procurer." There's a plot to the story but it's more about how one lives with such an awful heritage. In "The Last Thing We Need," a man writes to someone he's never met. He knows of him only because he came across the man's wallet, a packet of letters, and two unfilled prescriptions with an address on them, left behind as rubbish. He doesn't even know if the man still lives there but that's not why he writes: he's killed a drifter in an aborted convenience store robbery and he cant's get his head around what he's done and he hopes a complete stranger can help him but he knows he can't. "I've tried, Duane Moser," he writes, "But I can't picture you at 4077 Pincay Drive. I can't see you in Henderson, period, out in the suburbs, on a cul-de-sac, in one of those prefab houses with the stucco and the garage gaping off the front like a mouth. I can't see you standing like a bug under those streetlights the color of antibacterial soap. . . . I can't see you behind a fence."

Note the combination of ordinary language with images as striking as they are spare -"the garage gaping off the front like a mouth", "standing like a bug under those streetlights the color of antibacterial soap". As I said, this woman can write.

Here is the start of the third story, "Rondine al Nido." "She will be thirty when she walks out on a man who in the end, she'll decide, didn't love her enough, though he in fact did love her, but his love wrenched something inside him, and this caused him to hurt her." This sentence -and the story that follows--catches something of the complicated, often tortured nature of human beings' love lives, which seldom go according to plan. It makes you want to read on, which is the mark of a master storyteller. "Who can say why we offer the parts of ourselves we do, and when," she writes.

Many of the characters -indeed most of them--are not pleasant or appealing people. They've been twisted by life into awkward growths, hanging on as trees do sometimes on the fringes of the desert, surviving at high cost but surviving nonetheless.

Not all the stories work. "Virginia City," for instance, is overwritten. There are good passages in it but it reads as too self-conscious. It could have been better.

But the best of them are very good indeed, and they remind you of what short stories do that novels do not. Novels are leisurely, short stories are not. Novels permit the slow unraveling of narrative stream, short stories are more likely to concentrate on the single telling moment. When Watkins writes of a deserted lover who refuses to start new, and instead puts up, out of the scraps and pieces her ex has left behind, a Museum of Lost Love ("The Archivist"), the impact is different. Sure, probably she will get beyond her funk. But her life has been one long funk, and this moment catches the arc of it.

This collection offers promise that Watkins might join the premiere rank of short fiction writers, a line that stretches from Chekhov to Edna O'Brien to Andre Dubus (not III) and John Cheever and Grace Paley and Alice Munro. If you're a writer, you could do a lot worse than that.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 10, 2012 2:21:02 PM PDT
C. E. Selby says:
They aren't chapters. This is not a novel. It is a collection of short stories!

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 10, 2012 2:36:36 PM PDT
David Keymer says:
I don't understand your comment. I never wrote that they were chapters. In fact, I wrote that they do what good short stories can do and novels cannot. I don't know how you got from what I wrote to your comment. It doesn't make sense.
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