• Hardcover: 272 pages
• Publisher: Harper (October 20, 2015)
The long-awaited return of a writer of rare emotional wisdom
The son of an aging fisherman becomes ensnared in a violent incident that forces him to confront his broken relationship with his father. A woman travels halfway across the country to look for her ex-husband, only to find her attention drawn in a surprising direction. A millworker gives safe harbor to his son’s pregnant girlfriend, until an ambiguous gesture upsets their uneasy equilibrium. These and other stories—of yearning, loss, and tentative new connections—come together in Mendocino Fire, the first new collection in two decades from the widely admired Elizabeth Tallent.
Buy, read, and discuss Mendocino Fire
Elizabeth Tallent is the author of the story collections Honey, In Constant Flight, and Time with Children, and the novel Museum Pieces. Since 1994 she has taught in the Creative Writing program at Stanford University. She lives on the Mendocino coast of California.
Even though Elizabeth Tallent is, by no means, a new voice in American fiction, her work was new to me, and I really enjoyed getting to know her through Mendocino Fire. I find that short stories are an excellent way to find out if you’re responding to a specific author, or jut a specific story. As well, I think they give authors a way to stretch – try on different voices. In this collection of ten stories, Tallent does both: she shows off her versatility, but she also gave me the ability to determine if I wanted to read more of her work (yes, I do.)
Critics have referred to Tallent’s short stories, particularly those in this collection, as “elegant” and “perfectly made,” and I have to agree. Though most, if not all, of her characters – a young man trying to start a life while also accepting that he isn’t the son his father wanted, a young girl exploring her sexuality and forging a future while also facing the fact that futures cost money, a woman still processing her divorce – the list goes on – are demonstrably imperfect, the author has told their stories with grace and not a little bit of dark wit.
I was particularly drawn to Tallent’s use of language throughout the collection. The way she describes David Merson, the protagonist of “Tabriz,” (one of my favorites of the bunch) as “heartsore in the way of old activists,” really struck a chord with me, perhaps because I know so many aging hippies, but that’s just one example of the way she mixes description and social commentary into a satisfying blend.
Of the collection, “Tabriz” and the titular “Mendocino Fire” were the two I most responded to, partly because of the language, and partly because the characters resembled people I’ve encountered throughout my life, which made them seem the most “real” to me.
I had several false starts reading the very first story in the collection, ‘The Wrong Son,” but not everyone will respond to every word any writer offers. Even though I didn’t truly connect with it, though, there were a couple of moments – Nate’s internal reflection about wondering if he and his young family will ever get out of the trailer he’s renting from his father, and into a real house. I remember when Fuzzy and I were first married, and facing the reality of what you can actually afford when you’re young and just beginning your adult life.
Overall, this collection is truly compelling, with stunning use of language, vivid descriptions, real, flawed characters, and a theme of broken people becoming whole that I found incredibly interesting and engaging.
Goes well with bean and cheese burritos and Indio beer.
Tuesday, October 20th: Books on the Table
Friday, October 23rd: Bibliotica
Monday, October 26th: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, October 27th: Back Porchervations
Wednesday, October 28th: Olduvai Reads
Thursday, October 29th: she treads softly
Friday, October 30th: M. Denise Costello
Tuesday, November 3rd: Read. Write. Repeat.
Wednesday, November 4th: Worth Getting in Bed For
Thursday, November 5th: Imaginary Reads
Friday, November 6th: Raven Haired Girl
Monday, November 9th: Lavish Bookshelf
Tuesday, November 10th: Dreams, Etc.
Wednesday, November 11th: You Can Read Me Anything
Thursday, November 12th: The Well-Read Redhead
Friday, November 13th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews