These eleven compelling stories reveal the interplay and varying hues of two basic elements of human experience—memory and desire, Gladys Swan’s characters are frequently forced to shed their illusions as they struggle to shape their lives.
The title story, like many of the others in the collection, has as its backdrop the beautiful but sometimes harsh landscape of the American Southwest. There a reclusive farmer known as Goat Man takes in a young Mexican boy as his companion. When the greed of a tax collector and the complicity of a community destroy Goat Man, the boy vanishes into the night but returns in the form of a legend, a reminder to the residents of the valley of their changing, crueler world. In another story a traveling carnival breaks down when a sandstorm does final damage to the dreams of the company, and a tired, almost defeated woman attempts to regroup and continue what has been so hopefully called “Carnival for the Gods.” An older couple, carrying their Jewish past to a “Land of Promise.” Discovers instead an alien territory and must struggle from day to day, one leaning to the past, the other inclining toward an unattainable vision of the future.
In “The Ink Feather” a small, lonely girl, witness to endless quarrels between her mother and her much older brother, draws comfort from the world of her dolls and the prospect of adventure outside the mist-covered windows of her house. In “Getting an Education” a diffident young woman, “trying to be a student and to discover what she ought to be learning,” finds insight in the details of the lives around her, especially the secretive, eccentric existence of one of her professors. A widowed grandmother, in “Black Hole,” is impregnated during a chance encounter with a nameless stranger and shocks her family when she determines to give birth to and raise her child.
Like that grandmother, all of the characters in these fictions—whether from the comfortable middle class or the fringes of society—are at odds with themselves and their world. It is Gladys Swan’s special gift that she can so seamlessly depict the particular terrors and wonders of their lives. This is a mesmerizing collection.
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