Monday, January 9, 2017

Half Wild: Elegant Stories About Vermont

At Book Expo America (BEA) last May, I had just finished fawning over getting my book signed by Richard Russo when a publicist sort of grabbed me and asked if I was interested in a slim volume of short stories titled Half Wild by a debut writer named Robin MacArthur. Sure, why not? It was one of those heart-wrenching parts of BEA where a super-talented (as I'd soon learn), but little-known author sat at her table by herself, while all the tables around her (Russo's was directly adjacent) had long lines.

When I got home (MacArthur, by the way, couldn't have been nicer!) I looked over the stories' descriptions and MacArthur's terrific inscription on my book — "For Greg, Enjoy these wild woods, back roads" — and made a mental note that I wouldn't just set this galleys aside so it'd be lost in a pile forever, but to keep it as a TBR priority. It took seven months, but I finally got to it. Super glad I did!

I realize that was a long walk to illustrate an instance of book serendipity, but I think the way I came to these stories actually enhanced how much I liked them. And like them, I did. They're really fantastic! MacArthur explores, in precise but not-precious prose, various characters' connections to their roots in rural Vermont.

"Love Birds" is about ex-hippies who have been married 47 years, live off the grid, can't see themselves anywhere else, and love their simple life (this story is one of my favorites).

"The Heart of The Woods" is a terrific a story about a woman who marries a rich man who flips distressed residential property to commercial real estate. Her father, a logger, is greatly disappointed with her life choices.

And the last story, my favorite in the collection, "The Women Where I'm From" ties a thematic bow on the book, as it follows a young woman named Hannah who lives in Seattle, but returns to Vermont to care for her cancer-stricken mother. Hannah is surprised by the pull her childhood home has over her and tries to decide whether to stay.

These elegant stories really resonated with me. I've actually never been to Vermont, but I do have a bit of a complicated relationship with the place I grew up. And that relationship to your roots is the real theme here. The setting of the Vermont woods is sort of just a bonus - atmospheric and, to me, a bit exotic even.

If you've followed this blog for any amount of time, you'll recognize it's rare that I post about short story collections. But I loved this collection — and I think most readers will too. Very highly recommended!

1 comment:

  1. Someday I hope to attend BEA. IT always seems to fall during the school year so I never get the chance to even consider making the trip from California.