Set in a small South Dakota town, the stories in this collection form a prolonged narrative about the misery of Mavis, a lonely woman trapped by her circumstances in the town where she was born
Jonathan Gillman writes about the Midwest as one who has lived there and as one who has worked the land. Focusing on the lives of particular people in a South Dakota town, Gillman weaves their stories into a rich fabric that moves back and forth through time. The landscape, its peculiar bleakness and beauty, is central to the stories. The stories form a continuous narrative that centers on the life of Mavis, a lonely woman, stuck in a place that once held promise and life. Around her there seem to be more graves than living people. Her husband, Nate, has been killed in a boating accident. Her daughter, Alice, has left with a traveling carnival. She works in an empty diner and dreams of being somewhere else. She reads Shakespeare and, looking out her window in the middle of the night, imagines the past riding by. There are others - Mort, her father, Ed Blanchard, Alice as a young girl, an unnamed cattle buyer - whose lives are part of the landscape and of Mavis's own identity. Their stories are like a collective memory that no longer belongs only to them. Before the water covered the land, before there were European settlers, this was a place that was occupied by others, whose remains turn up at various times in these stories. Like the ferris wheel of the carnival, the cycle of life goes on. Gillman's voice is distinctive. Trained as a playwright, he writes stories that are lean, often organized around dialogue, realistic but at the same time oddly mythic. Bones found in a field are clacked together, seeming to summon another time and place. Rising water behind a new dam covers the past and people's memories, forming a surreal presence that turns tip like the unconscious.