I’ve been sitting here in my comfy chair for perhaps an hour or more, the windows thrown wide allowing cool evening breezes to sweep through the room, ceiling fan whirring overhead circulating the air. Dusk has given way to darkness, and thunder has been rumbling sulkily in the distance for some time. Come in quickly before the storm breaks. I’ve just opened a bottle of wine, and sliced a good smoky gouda cheese. It’s late Sunday evening – welcome to the Salon.
Heavier Than Air, a collection of short stories by Nona Caspers, was on my reading list this week, and it’s title was more than apt, for her characters are suspended in a thick atmosphere of regret and unease. A palpable yearning to escape from the prison of their lives, be it the family dairy farm, a bad marriage, a slow death from AIDS, or the mental hospital, is handled with sensitivity and compassion.
Caspers writes about the lives of ordinary Minnesota farm people, young and not so young, people yearning to make something else of their lives, yearning to make dreams come true. Yet it seems they are destined to be disappointed – like Mr. Hellerman (Mr. Hellerman’s Vacation), who “always wanted a set of trained snow dogs and sled; instead he got a series of farm dogs, pleasant, rangy mutts that followed him in and out of the barn and got run over in the driveway.” Like Ruth Marie Hinnencamp (Alfalfa), who marries John Kolster even though her true love is her best friend Margaret.
Caspers writing is deceptively simple, yet she perfectly captures each characters language and cadence of thought. In Country Girls, 14 year old Nora faces the consequence of the deep feelings she has discovered for her cousin Cynthia.
The night before I moved back to St. Cloud to live with friends of my parents, I stood uner the bare light bulb in the bathroom and stared at my dark hair and tanned face in the mirror. It wasn’t the fact that I was in love with Cynthia that bothered them most, that they couldn’t accept, not really. It was that I was so forwardly in love, so passionately in love, so innocently in love. It made them anxious, as it would me today if someone I knew were to behave so strongly and foolishly about another human being.”
I’ve only recently come to appreciate the short story, and this debut collection, which won the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction, proves the short story genre is in good hands. These are beautifully written stories, each one clearly illustrating an understanding of the human situation that is as vast as the landscape in which they’re set.
In completing this collection, I’ve also completed The Short Story Challenge, at least according to the terms I set for myself. This challenge was the first I’d taken on, as a newcomer to the world of book blogging and challenge setting. I’m eternally grateful to Kate, for starting it, for I have developed an appreciation for the short story form which I would never have believed possible. No longer will I immediately shy away from short story collections, dismissing them out of hand as was my habit. I will now embrace them, even take them up with eagerness, and enjoy them for the delicious literary gems they can be.
Next week is to be a fluff and fun week of reading, for I’m picking up Dedication and Rules for Saying Goodbye, both tales of the lives and loves of women in their twenties and thirties. We’ll see if I can still relate to any of that in any meaningful way!
I think the storm has passed, for as I’ve been writing, the thunder has grumbled off to bed, along with my two little dogs who are stretched languorously underneath the fan’s cool breeze, snoring away in the depths of their doggy dreams.
I do believe it’s time for me to join them.