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Recapture Paperback – October 16, 2012
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"Recapture is a living, breathing museum of natural wonders. With writing as spare as the landscape she evokes, Olsen wades through the detritus of the human experience and finds clarity there, and some magic, too." —ZYZZYVA
"A gem, a small collection of stories that is a pleasure to read and consider." —TERRAIN.ORG
"Olsen's deft use of language creates stories that exude not only loneliness and longing, but also dark humor." —SUNDOG LIT
"These are sexy stories that are never explicit, knowing exactly which details are necessary for their effect and describing no more." —TOTTENVILLE REVIEW
"True to its name, Recapture grasps after lost loves, fading histories, and shifting landscapes to bring us an expertly curated series of human exhibits in an expansive, outdoor museum." —THE MUSEUM OF AMERICANA
"Erica Olsen gives us the dream life of the Southwest in this striking collection, a landscape told in language as spare and pungent and exacting as the desert itself. A swift and lovely debut from a writer of real gifts." —KEVIN CANTY, author of Where the Money Went
"These sly, heartbreaking stories capture the modern West, where the past is ever–present and the future is already here." —ALISON BAKER, author of How I Came West, and Why I Stayed
"Beneath their polished surfaces, Erica Olsen's stories are subversive, sometimes darkly funny, and always disquieting. This accomplished writer really knows her way through the tricky zone between truth and falsehood where art is made." —SUSAN LOWELL HUMPHREYS, author of Ganado Red
"A sharp, wise new voice from the American West, Erica Olsen is the real thing. As wild as David Foster Wallace or George Saunders and as tender as James Salter or Alice Munro, Olsen's stories are hilarious, painful, and achingly lovely." —AMANDA EYRE WARD, author of Close Your Eyes
"Like all good narratives, Erica Olsen's 'Grand Canyon II' suggests great consequence. The past is another country. The task of memory is impossible. No one exists and nothing ever happened. But somewhere in your brain, a beautiful lie is being spun…" —SARAH MANGUSO, author of The Guardians
"Recapture is like a lost map of the backcountry, detailing the forgotten places where secrets shove up through the dust, pieces of lives demanding to be made whole. The territory is endlessly illuminating and constantly surprising, revealing a master storyteller at work." —KIM TODD, author of Tinkering with Eden
From the Back Cover
The stories in Recapture take us to an American West that is both strange and familiar. The Grand Canyon can only be visited in replica form. An archivist preserves a rare map of a vanished Lake Tahoe. A Utah cliff dwelling survives as an aging roadside attraction in California. By turns lyrical, deadpan, and surreal, Erica Olsen’s stories bring us the natural world and the world we make, the artifacts we keep and the memories and desires that shape our lives.
- Item Weight : 5.8 ounces
- Paperback : 165 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1937226050
- ISBN-13 : 978-1937226053
- Product Dimensions : 4.32 x 0.51 x 6.89 inches
- Publisher : Torrey House Press; First Torrey House Press Edition (October 16, 2012)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,962,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Erica Olsen's "Recapture" is a promising start for both her publisher and herself. As an archaeologist for whom the Four Corners region is first of all a landscape of ancient ruins, Olsen avoids the unavoidable trap of looking upon the land as merely a theater for the American national story of conquest and settlement. For Olsen, the land and the ruins belong to their own world. Yet she does repeatedly grapple with the disconnection between this land and the recent sheet of American and tourism culture thrown over it, sometimes hiding it. She is troubled by how Americans can't seem to see this land in authentic ways; several stories involve fake or re-created places or ruins. She (or at least her characters) are seeking their own, original connections with the land. These are mainly personal connections, often romantic connections. They often fail. The ruins in the stories sometimes become symbols of ruined attempts at connections. The American present and the ancient land just can't quite reach an honest and lasting bond.
You can read these stories on several levels. They work fine as personal stories, with the lonely desert as a symbol of the loneliness of the human heart. But you could also see these personal stories as symbolic of an American society that knows it would be better off if it could make a connection with its magnificent land but doesn't really have the social skills to do so. The themes are well advanced by Olsen's writing style, which can be quietly poetic and impressionistic, leaving the reader to participate in making some thoughtful connections. There's that word "connections" again. These stories, some of which might seem slight by themselves, do add up into a larger, well, connection.
Let's hope we'll be hearing more from Erica Olsen before too long.
Relationships--if they can be found in these stories--are broken, in the process of breaking or being partially assembled from the materials found on site.
Some of the pieces run barely a page or two; one is more than half footnotes. The fragments don't cohere to make a single object, but like lipid-coated pot sherds, baskets, granaries and stacked stones, they provide clues for us to extract truths about our vanished selves.
In "The Curation of Silence," Olsen takes this notion to its extreme. She imagines a discipline that studies captured silences, but the empty vessels hold the most meaning for the collector:
"To collect was not only to preserve, but also to alter through the addition of new meanings--just as the books on my shelf were becoming an autobiography of myself that would also be dispersed someday--meanings which were individual, personal and destined to fade away without a trace."
With her background as an archivist and a museum technician in the Four Corners area of the southwest, Olsen knows what this landscape can tell us. Americans typically don't have to live daily with thousand-year structures or billion-year geology. We can make our own ruins, thank you, and build over them with something new and reassuring.
But out here the big spaces and silences force us to confront our conceits of individuality and national exceptionalism. Unlike the forest-dwellers, we can't help but see how time and nature always win out.
Out here, we ready ourselves to become the next Anasazi.
In the title story that concludes the book, a character has headed east to find the original location of an ancient cliff dwelling that was "saved" early in the last century and carted to California, where it was reassembled and then devolved into a personal folly, a movie set, a theme park and a century-old re-ruin. Her assignment is to figure out how to return it because it's now an obstruction to development.
Despite their provenance, the stones have no interest to anyone in Utah, where minor ruins are "a dime a dozen."
Not long before, she'd journeyed to Norway to trace her family history:
"She'd brought a handful of photos of houses with her on the trip, snapshots sent from Norway to America between the 1920s and the 1940s. On the back of one was written: vårt hus! Our house! But whose? They'd written it with such confidence, such an absence of information for Kelsey. They knew who they were. No one remembered them now. [...] It was a very house-conscious place, Norway."
In the opening story, the Grand Canyon, after a disaster, now is accessible to the public only as a replica. In another, park workers try to manage the visitor's wilderness experience through high technology, while they watch a lot of Netflix in their spare time. They are like mall cops, consoling themselves that "the simulated protects the real."
And who is to say a fake Grand Canyon is any less real than our precious photos and the memories they evoke?
Real nature still intrudes on these illusions of it, though.
A hiker heads out into the back country without adequate preparation but is saved by dumb luck and technology. He's able to find a Maverick convenience store to warm up in but can't find love.
An unattached archaeologist returns to find his singlewide incinerated:
"He did a survey. There was the incinerated and the merely charred. The fake wood and the real wood. Made in USA, made in China. His decisions of conscience, his consolations, the ways he punished himself, the museum of his life."
Olsen's characters discover themselves in barren places, putting together shattered pieces, with little hope of restoring the original patterns. Or they work in dioramas and theme ruins that seem "sterile and well-kept... like they sent a cleaning crew to vacuum the sites at night."
But these stories are not as depressing as they might sound. Olsen captures a west that is difficult to see from an armchair and presents a view that can be disturbing up close for those who think the world is supposed to be filled for them.
We are not the first to search. We all live on scoured ground. Maintaining this consciousness can be an act of courage and hope, she seems to say, as we amass reserves against a certain winter.
With photographs, memories and more, who is to say what is real and what is not? With our world and that of nature, Olsen writes with a clever and wry twist that will keep the reader thoroughly entertained. I was intrigued and read it in one sitting - it's fabulous!