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Refresh, Refresh: Stories Paperback – October 2, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Percy's second collection (following last year's The Language of Elk) traces lives led in rural Oregon's fractured, mostly poor communities. The title story (selected for The Best American Short Stories 2006), presents Josh, a young man from small-town Tumalo who watches as men who signed up as Marine reservists for beer pay leave to fight in the Iraq War, including Josh's father. As Josh's unreliable first person details a deer hunt, the escapades of the town recruitment officer and the less-and-less frequent e-mails from his father, tension slowly builds. Set during a blackout, The Caves in Oregon follows geology teacher Becca and her husband, Kevin, as they explore a network of caves beneath their home, grappling to understand each other in the wake of a miscarriage. Meltdown imagines a nuclear disaster in November 2009, while the menacing Whisper opens with the accidental late-life death of Jacob, leaving his brother, Gerald, to care for Jacob's stroke-impaired wife. Percy's talent for putting surprising characters in difficult contemporary settings makes this a memorable collection. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The title story in Percy's collection won the Plimpton and Pushcart prizes and was anthologized in Best American Short Stories of 2006, and justly so. In it, the small town of Tumalo, Oregon, loses its coaches, teachers, barbers, and cooks when the army deploys a batallion of part-time soldiers to Iraq. Two of the men's sons, still reeling from their fathers' departure, spend the time boxing as a way to alleviate stress, anxiously awaiting their fathers' communiqués by e-mail. The other stories, also set in rural Oregon at the foot of the Cascade Mountains, all carry a similar thread of emotional desperation. And that pain is inevitably mirrored in a threatening landscape, which here, in one viscerally rendered story after another, includes a mad bear, an eerie underground cave, and a dangerous hail storm. In one of the most boldly envisioned stories, "Meltdown," a nuclear accident has left Oregon a dead zone, unpopulated save for renegades like Darren. He drives down deserted, ash-covered streets because "living with ghosts feels more like a victory, somehow." These are hard-hitting stories from a writer to watch. Wilkinson, Joanne
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Tumalo has many textures. Good and evil don't fight each other in horseback showdowns; they are confusedly linked like a jelly fish's tentacles. Pain and loss live on the surface of daily life.
Percy's Tumalo is firstly a masculine world. A world of omnipresent blood, of knuckle-tearing and sledgehammer-swinging factory work, snot and dirt-filled backyard brawls, Budweiser's consumed in front of nightly Wheel of Fortune episodes, and piles of animal bones.
This western and resourceful frontier brawniness, in all its masculinity, however, never ceases being real.
The turbocharged, big chested, Papa Hemingway manliness serves to merely color the inescapable pains and joy's of everyday life: a father at war, a wife's miscarriage, a father tormented with watching his daughter suffer through a destructive relationship.
The brawny, unshaven gruff, the stand-up freezers of hanging deer carcasses, the vultures, hunting dogs, and pools of deep red blood wouldn't work, just wouldn't work without the counterposed textures of human vulnerability and tenderness: the struggling marriage, an aging man feeling his mortality, a tyrannical and abusive husband, and father and son whom cannot find the words to pierce the silence of a car ride down a quiet country road.
The vulnerability and masculinity in "Refresh, Refresh" interplay in a polyphonic, brilliant way that is above all- authentic. These stories from Benjamin Percy represent life lived honestly, if not perfectly, and in unwavering recognition of the human struggles that befall, in some form, us all.
Take the interior, emotional world of the protagonist in "The Meltdown". It is a sculpture in high relief, set against the backdrop of a nuclear and Chernobyl-like exterior landscape.
This grim setting along with the "numbness" of the Iraqi war veteran protagonist play off each other in a powerful way. The pure desolation of the radiation-filled landscape only draws the reader further and more immediately into the interior world of the story's main character.
Percy, with prose that is as modern and authentically American as the new frontier world he evokes, as hardscrabble and raw as the landscape of Tumalo, and as resourceful and optimistic as the town's most praiseworthy inhabitants, has created a collection of stories not to be overlooked.
Overall, this is a really good short story collection. I highly recommend it.
Wow! This is one writer whose talent blows me away! His short fiction carries the same sort of tension that was present in The Wilding. (In fact, the story The Woods is a sort of rough draft of The Wilding and its plot benefits from having much of the extraneous plot points of the novel stripped away.)
Set in the small towns and forests of rural Oregon, there is not a clunker in the collection. Each of the stories ring true as characters - mostly men - find themselves face to face with deteriorating marriages, dead-end lives, death and loss, the brute forces of nature and more. Sometimes the stories are stark, but they are always human. At times they remind me of Hemingway's Nick Adams stories infused with Steinbeck's compassion and humanism.
From the titular story, in my opinion the absolute best of the lot, in which the War on Terror plays a major part without ever stepping from behind the curtain to the final story of a young man facing down a marauding bear, these stories make clear that Mr. Percy is a phenomenon on his way to becoming a powerhouse.
Most recent customer reviews
I guess I'm a little cynical. I lost faith in the short story? Did I? Is that it?Read more
Out of the ten stories in the book, five are really, really oustanding!Read more