Monday, September 26, 2016

Book Review: "Eveningland: Stories" by Michael Knight

I don't know about you, but I have a list (both mental and written) of authors whose work I have enjoyed through the years, and from time to time I check all of the book-related websites to see if any of these people have books coming out in the near future. Some of these authors are more prolific so I don't have to wait a long time between books, but others keep me waiting for years, and in certain cases I wonder whether they're even planning to write another book.

I found Michael Knight's work when his first novel, Divining Rod, and his first story collection, Dogfight and Other Stories, were both released in 1998. The power of his storytelling emanated from his use of language and rich characterization, as well as his ability to create tension and drama without resorting to histrionics or elaborate plot devices. And although Knight's stories appeared periodically in publications following the release of his first two books, I waited five years for his next one, and then seven years for the one after that. (I wasn't aware he had written a holiday-related novella between the two.)

Since 2010 I've been hoping Knight had another story collection or novel in him, so when I saw on NetGalley that his latest collection, Eveningland, was due out in March 2017, you can bet I submitted my request as soon as possible! Six years of elapsed time haven't dulled his talent, and reading these stories felt like visiting with an old friend, a person with whom you can talk for hours on end.

Eveningland is a collection of seven somewhat-connected stories, each of which takes place in Knight's native Alabama. The stories are set between the Deepwater Horizon oil spill into the Gulf in 2010 to the arrival of a destructive hurricane, although not every story is firmly rooted in time as a concept. Each story focuses on relationships—between husband and wife, lovers, family, even strangers. And while each story seems relatively simple, it's surprising how quickly these characters find their way into your mind.

All of the stories in this collection worked for me on some level, but my favorites included: "Smash and Grab," in which a teenage girl turns the tables on a burglar—and keeps him guessing; "Grand Old Party," which tells of a man who suspects his wife's infidelity and decides to confront her and her lover, but doesn't think it through; "Jubilee," about a long-married couple preparing for the husband's 50th birthday party; "Our Lady of the Roses," in which a young art teacher at a Catholic school finds herself at odds with her career, her faith, and her relationship; and "Water and Oil," which tells of a teenage boy worried about the encroaching oil spill yet distracted by a more worldly waitress at his father's marina.

There are flashier short story authors out there, but Knight is a tremendously talented storyteller. Eveningland sneaks up on you quietly, hooks you quickly, and leaves you wanting more from Knight. I hope I don't have to wait six more years!!

NetGalley and Grove Atlantic provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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