Saturday, December 26, 2015

Book Review: "Mendocino Fire: Stories" by Elizabeth Tallent

Relationships have the potential for tremendous complexities and complications, which is why they're such valuable literary fodder. In her newest collection of stories, Mendocino Fire, Elizabeth Tallent mines these challenges as they arise among family members, romantic partners, and others, and proves nothing is as simple as it seems.

Not every story worked for me, as I found that some of them tried to cram too many disparate ideas together, but there were some stories that absolutely knocked me out. My favorites included, "Tabriz," in which a man watches his life begin to unravel when he unearths an expensive rug at a dump; "Briar Switch," chronicling a woman's return home in the midst of a blizzard upon learning that her estranged father is close to death; "Never Come Back," which follows a man whose good intentions complicate his family's life in numerous ways, time and time again; "The Wrong Son," about a young man's complicated relationship with his taciturn father; and my favorite story in the collection, "Nobody You Know," which tells of a woman's struggles following her divorce, and what occurs upon her return home.

I'd never before read anything Tallent has written, and I was tremendously impressed by her mastery of language and imagery. While her sentences tend to be very wordy, they're not verbose, and I found myself marveling numerous times at each story. Here's just one example, from "The Wilderness":
"She could swear that an enthralled reader nineteen years old is the most beautiful animal on earth—at least, she's seen one or two who were, in their spellbound moment, the incarnation of extremest human beauty. They were not themselves. Literature looked back at her from their eyes and told her certain things she was sure they ought not to have understood at their age."
Tallent's, well, talent, is evident throughout this collection, and I'm now interested in reading some of her earlier work. I've been fortunate to find so many short story writers whose work I've enjoyed this year, and I'm happily adding Tallent to that list.

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