”It always seems like everything’s the same until the moment when you need everything to be the same. Then you find out it’s been different the whole time.” From the story The Persistence.
I’m really surprised to discover that someone growing up in Invermere, BC could have a similar experience to a kid growing up in Glade, Kansas. Small towns, it seems are similar everywhere. I can’t tell you how irritated I was when Sarah Palin was going around the country talking about Small Town Values. It made me want to upchuck. I had lived in some major cities by then, Tucson, Phoenix, San Francisco, and had spent time in most of the major cities in the United States. One thing I’ve discovered is that people are people and what good people value are pretty much the same things good people value everywhere. Big city people can be just as friendly if not more so than small town people who generally, frankly, are hindered by inbred discriminations against anyone they didn’t grow up with. Nothing personal, you're just not from around here. If you listen to Sarah Palin small towns are the paragons of virtue, but what I’ve discovered is that adultery, fornication of all kinds( yes what you are thinking), too much drinking, drugs, and true evil are as prevalent in small towns as in big cities.
Now D. W. Wilson embraces all of that, but what is endearing about his characters are they are fundamentally good people struggling with life. I grew up with a bunch of guys that hung together because of bisecting interests. I’d say that we were a little more intelligent than the average teenager. We dated the same pack of girls and took similar classes. We went out for sports. We became officers in FFA, muscling out the upperclassmen our sophomore year to take control of the direction of chapter. We supported one of our members to be class president our senior year. Ultimately we were held up by one thing:
”We were never the kids who ran the town--it never felt like ours, probably because none of us ever intended to stay.” From the story Once You Break a Knuckle.
Every relationship we had was temporary because we weren’t staying. It was like a mantra we would keep reminded each other of.
”Small town girls, Twigg might mumble into his pint. They come into your life and then they’re gone and you’ve forgotten them just as quick. You know how it is. You know how it is.” From the story Accelerant.
But there is always that one girl that for a moment you think about throwing all your dreams and your expectations for yourself out the window of a fast moving Chevy.
”She sucked the rest of the whiskey and pointed at the sky where a trail of turquoise streaked across the horizon--the northern lights, earlier than I’d ever known them. She just stood there for a second with her back to me and those light around her. Christ, she was so pretty. Then she whipped the empty bottle off the summit, and I stared at her and thought about her and waited for the sound of the bottle breaking way, way below us.” From the story The Dead Roads.
Then you wake up and realize you might as well just drown yourself in the nearest rusty cattle tank.
There are a lot about fathers and sons in this collection. There is conflict and love and fear.
”He wanted to grab his dad’s hair and smash that face into a tabletop, until the wood was dented with his dad’s front teeth and all that remained in his fist was a bloody husk of hair and sinew.” From the story Valley Echo.
I never felt that much anger at my Dad. I only made him really mad one time. I was disking a field and these two young ladies I knew tracked me down and asked me if I could go to the lake with them. An hour no more... which ended up being closer to three. When they dropped me back at the field my Dad was driving the tractor. I waited at the edge of the field until he made a circle and pulled up in a cloud of dust or it could have been a cloud of my shame. He stepped out of the tractor and pushed me. I hit him in the chest, which turned out to be one of his least vulnerable spots. I nearly broke my thumb. It was black and blue for several days and sore for weeks. He pushed me again towards the road and got back in the tractor and drove off. I walked about five miles home. We never spoke about it again.
”I imagined my old man behind me, on the slope with arms crossed, dwindling to an outline, a silhouette, a shadow.” From the story Reception.
My grandfather died from a massive heart attack at 45. My father found him, black tongue extended. He’d been throwing some feed into the horse bunks when his heart seized. My father was 14. It just so happened that when I turned 14 my father was 45. He didn’t talk about it with me, but the house was small and I heard his conversations with life insurance agents. That same year I remember my mom waking me up at 2AM and asking me to go look for my father. My heart was in my throat as I started the pickup letting the engine warm up. It was hard for me to conceive that anything could happen to my Dad that he didn’t want to have happen. I drove around through all the pastures thinking he had been restless and had decided to check cattle. It was spooky being out that time of the night, black as pitch. The cattle’s eyes glowed from the light of my high beams. Shadows looked menacing. My mind began to imagine the absolute worst possibilities. I finally came home without finding him. I was worried about what my mom would say regarding my failure. Luckily he was back, healthy, angry at mom, but he chucked my chin and ruffled my hair and told me to get back to bed.
Wilson talks about sons. The struggles they have to find themselves, respect their fathers, and at the same time make them proud of them. Yes, I was one of those guys with tears welling when Kevin Costner asked his Dad if he wanted to have a catch.
”Together we’ve raised our sons to be someone into whose care you could entrust a belonging.” From the story The Mathematics of Friedrich Gauss.
This line made me gasp because it encapsulated the way I feel about my son. He is loyal, warm, considerate, and strong. He will be a rock for the woman lucky enough to win his love.
My London Bookseller recommended this to me along with D. W. Wilson’s first novel Ballistics. I got to say Nick came through for me again. I loved the way these stories weave around each other with characters starring in one story and appearing as a sidekick in the next. Wilson explores all facets of this community of people. He shows how hard life is and how difficult it is to be happy. He shows how destructive people are, not intentionally, but breaking dreams of other people in the process of trying to figure out their own lives.
Obviously this book clicked over a lot of memories for me. It made me think about things I haven’t thought about for years. His short story The Dead Roads won the 2011 BBC Short Story Award and it was certainly one of my favorites, but the rest of the collection had the same muscular confidence as the one that won the award. I’m definitely going to read his novel and see what he can do with a longer arc of plotting. ”Promotions, he told me, are a lot like blowjobs: easy to get if you’re willing to go somewhere dirty.” From the story The Elasticity of Bone. So get a little dirty with D. W. Wilson. You might get beer spilled on your lap or grease on your clothes or dirt on your skin, but in the process you might appreciate who you have and what you have just a little bit more.