Why do writers write? Is it to tell the world what they’re thinking or is it to try to experience the world through someone else’s eyes?
Butler has facility with a phrase; he is a literary writer. In “Sven & Lily,” one of my favorite stories that comes early in the collection, Butler writes
“Sven entered the bar first, ducking under the low doorway, me following behind him like an early-afternoon shadow smaller than its maker.”That story tells of a deep and wide generosity between two men that resulted in them beating each other to a pulp, all in the name of friendship. Alcohol was involved.
In the title story, a returned soldier terrifies his girlfriend when he tries to jumpstart his own sense of giving-a-shit. In “Morels,” three men who attended high school together have a deep connection that for them turns wrong into right. All these stories feature the mysterious inner feelings of men unaccustomed to speaking what they feel, a phenomenon common to the bars and dives of midwestern states. It’s not limited to the masculine, though this book is.
In “Sweet Light Crude,” an oil executive is kidnapped and told he must drink his own drilled oil before he will be let go. Butler manages to make both men sympathetic, defiant, and brave.
Another favorite story, “In Western Counties,” has a woman in it: a woman with agency. She is a cop with long red hair and she is close to retirement. She knows a thing or two from her time on the force, but she feels her skills slipping away, every week a new indignity of forgetting. But she still knows how to shoot and she knows how to be kind. Those things she did not forget.
Truth be told, by the last two stories of this collection, I was reading long past lunchtime, the space I had allotted myself in the middle of the day to read. I understood the attraction of long-legged black-haired Sunny in “Train People Drive Slow” in a visceral way. She was dangerous--sexy and lethal--with a radioactive aura. Some men prefer to die of radiation.
Wisconsin. That’s where they were when he caught the fifty-pound common carp in the river filled with gravel, junked cars, and “old I beams laying around like pickup sticks from some other, more brutal time.” But he survived, nicked & scarred.
Yes, this is a collection that one reads on and on, much longer and later than one intended. But the last story, “Apples,” tells us what we needed to know. What on earth do we do with all the apples?
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