“That there are all sorts of words for things in other languages that we don’t have in English? It’s like your soul is tongue-tied and when that happens, when you have a feeling or experience that you can’t explain because there isn’t a specific word for it. If you knew all the languages in the world, you could express yourself perfectly and all experiences would be understandable to you because you would have a word, a perfect word, to attach to any possible occasion.” ~Breatharians
This quote from the fourth story in the debut collection, Dog Run Moon, is how I feel when writing book reviews. I do get tongue-tied when trying to describe how some stories make me feel especially when the writing somehow depletes me of any decent vocabulary because the author has used all the good ones. I’m left with simple phrases like “Wow”. Not because it’s so unbelievably amazing or even the best story I’ve read, but like nothing I’ve read before.
Of the six short stories and one novella in this collection, maybe one didn’t work for me and surprisingly it was the first one, “Dog Run Moon”. The story about nude sleeper Sid, held me as a captive reader but I couldn’t figure out what it was really about and left me hanging at the end. Usually the first story of a collection is one of the stronger pieces (some would argue that this one was) and I’m glad I stayed with the book because the rest were excellent.
“Runoff”, a favorite, follows Dale who is still figuring out what he wants to do as a career and accidentally meets a much older woman with kids who he becomes fond of. Callan Wink writes gorgeous, heartfelt sentences and sometimes stories that are haunting but at the same time weaves in humor which catches the reader off guard. The characters are people I have never met but their thorough development made me feel like I had. Dale is a terrible test taker and is nervous about his EMT exam:
He was fairly certain that the correct answer was C. But, it was one of those questions where there could be multiple right answers, just one was more right than the others. He was pretty sure it was C, but it might have been A as well. These things confused him. He knew it was C. But then it might be A as well in which case it would be D because answer D was both C and A. Fuck.”
There are many quotable lines throughout this book and stories that have stayed with me long after finishing. “One More Last Stand” is about the reenactment of the Battle of Little Bighorn and an affair between Custer and his killer. “Exotics” follows a teacher who takes a summer job as a laborer at a 2,000 acre exotic animals ranch. “Breatharians” is about a young boy trying to figure out how to balance life between two families pleasing both parents. “Breatharians” had content I skimmed over because it was too disturbing for me (cat related) but there were so many insightful and funny scenes (especially between the boy and his Mom) that I was angry Wink made me go there – I couldn’t stop reading it. And yes I did look up the title word and it does exist.
But my most favorite was the last story which is more of a novella just over 50 pages titled “Hindsight”. The protagonist Lauren, looks back on her life as she tries to find a home, love, meaning with tenacity and grace.
“It was strange to think about, but the young and the old seem to be uniquely positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that life affords. It’s that middle time that’s a bitch. That time when you first realize without a doubt you can’t do everything you wanted to do, or be everything you wanted to be, but you still cling to the hope that if you just make the right choices, it will work out in the end. Of course, as a result, you are paralyzed by indecision.”
That line slayed me. Maybe it’s because I’m 42 and have been feeling the same way lately. I had to flip back to Wink’s picture and wonder how this young debut author could have written this story and bring an authentic voice to this middle aged character. I could quote about ten more lines and passages from this novella, but I’ll just recommend it again and again to read it for yourself.
If you are a fan of short stories, pick this one up. If you like themes woven in about relationships, loneliness and identity with the atmospheric backdrop of the West, you’ll get sucked in. And if you like stories about every day people with a bit of an edge, makes you feel a bit uncomfortable while cringe/laughing, give this collection a try.