William Hoffman alternates enduing themes of land and sea by taking inhabitants mostly of Virginia’s inland and Chesapeake Bay regions and making them thoroughly his own in this superb collection of stories. The stories deal with the clash between old and new values, with ties to the land and the lure of the sea, with the struggle to maintain relationships–between parents and children, husbands and wives, community and individual.
In “Fathers and Daughters,” a man fears that his pretty teenage daughter is throwing away her life by taking up with a handsome young man whose values are primitive and rapacious. In “Landfall,” an ailing, elderly couple makes a last trip. In their beloved sailboat, which has been like a vessel holding their marriage, the two cruise the New England coast to Canada, where the end of their journey is not what either foresaw. The protagonist of “Cuttings” is a bold, decorated veteran of Vietnam who has become softened by living in a metropolitan southern city. He is forced to show his bravery by facing a white oak that has died and needs felling to protect his beach cottage.
In “Smoke,” a former convict, sickly and cynical, comes in poverty to live with his sister and her family, and by his courage restores the idea of honor in those whom he has caused to feel shame and anger. “Lover” is the haunting story of an aging businessman who seeks desperately to regain love and his youth through a relationship with an adolescent girl. An intellectually sophisticated minister, in “The Question of Rain,” is asked by member of his congregation to offer a special prayer day for rain when a drought scorches the countryside. He is reluctant to perform the service, to be tapped in the position of publicly asking for rain and putting himself and his God to the test. In “Patriot, a coal miner’s love of country makes him a true patriot, though the war he fights is not against a foreign enemy bu against new, potentially destructive values.
Hoffman’s skill as a craftsman is matched by the veracity of his eye and ear for poignant detail in these quietly powerful and always deeply moving stories.
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