Sunday, November 2, 2008
Publication Weekend & Dispatch Review
In the Devil's Territory was officially published this weekend, although it's been in stores for a couple of weeks already. I'll be reading in North Carolina and Kentucky this week, and doing a "blog tour," too, writing guest posts at other people's blogs (and I'll post links here.)
Meantime, the book received a thoughtful and lovely review in the Columbus Dispatch last Sunday. Here it is:
Fiction: In the Devil's Territory
Six-pack of tales fresh, filling
Sunday, October 26, 2008 3:26 AM
By Margaret Quamme
For The Columbus Dispatch
There's a certain kind of story that, rightly or wrongly, is associated with college writing programs: polite, restrained, limited in scope and often concerned with subjects close to the experience of the young writer.
Kyle Minor, who received a master's degree in creative writing last year from Ohio State University and became a visiting writer at the University of Toledo, barrels right through the stereotype. The six stories collected for In the Devil's Territory are bold, diverse, complex and shockingly memorable.
The tales, many of which are set not just in the territory of the devil but in that of Southern Baptists, share a sense of the tension between being good and being right. The characters try for compassion and empathy, but neither comes easily to them.
Formally, the stories are surprisingly different.
The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Party focuses in microscopic detail on a couple of hours in the life of a family and finds powerful emotions bubbling up in ordinary acts. The narrator, whose wife is
on bed rest during a difficult pregnancy, tries with considerable frustration to prepare the special dessert she has requested:
"I pull the still soft ice cream from the freezer and dump it on top of the brownies and the not-warm fudge, and then I crush some almonds and throw them on top and rush the ugly mess I've made in the brownie bowl upstairs and hand it to my wife in her sickbed and rush to the bathroom and shut the door and stay longer than I know I should, because it is quiet in there."
Goodbye Hills, Hello Night also spans a short period, but -- with its violence external, not internal -- it pushes the limits of what we can accept as readers. Its narrator, writing from prison, explains what happened when a night of "rousting" went too far.
"Pile four or five boys into an old green Impala, white leather seats, old eight-track player, wake up some vagrants. That's rousting."
The remarkable achievement of the story, horrifying as it is, is that it's possible to get inside the narrator's mind and feel at home there.
Minor sometimes arcs across large reaches of time. The title story of the volume starts in East Berlin in 1961, as a young woman heroically helps her parents and aunt swim to freedom in West Berlin, and moves on to Palm Beach, Fla., in 1987, when the woman has become a tyrannical teacher -- then on to the present. It's a compact reflection on identity, and on the differences in how a life looks from inside and outside.
A Day Meant To Do Less, the most ambitious story in the collection, takes on the same theme. Two closely observed and painful sections of a scene in which a minister tries to bathe his demented mother flank a long, painful section describing that mother's hard life, as the story brings together the author's concerns with inner and outer violence.
The range is impressive. Even more impressive is the thoughtfulness with which Minor explores the limits of our understanding of ourselves and one another; and the compassion that sometimes, briefly, reaches across those limits.
Posted by Kyle Minor at 7:49 AM