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University of Pittsburgh Press ($24.95)
by Karen Walcott
In Paradise Road, the 2007 winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, Kirk Nesset displays his mastery of the short story form in twelve rich and well-developed stories. Nesset, a professor of English and Creative Writing at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, takes the reader through various locales and communities, evoking the landscape and atmosphere of each setting with his precise yet lush prose. On the surface his stories appear to be simple tales about ordinary people, but the worlds he opens to us have several levels.
In the first story of the collection, “The Prince of Perch Fishing,” we are introduced to a group of middle-aged fishing buddies all enthralled (romantically and otherwise) with a local widow: “Widow Fudge was widowed young. . . she had that sparkle and spark everyone likes and looks for in people.” What seems like a story about a love triangle turns out also to concern a rivalry between two partners in a marijuana growing enterprise. Yet the setting is a character too:
If you watched, around one or one-thirty, you’d see Widow Fudge coming down the hill on her bicycle. Down the steep grade she’d fly past the saltwater taffy and kite shop and the quick-fill and Bodega Gallery which offered tourist-grade art—fishing boats floating shrouded in fog, sea boulders battered by surf, gulls standing on pilings with foggy sunsets beyond.
From the gifted pianist who longs for his estranged identical twin in “Record Shop Girl” to the man in the title story who keeps encountering the same nearly naked woman near his horse ranch, Nesset creates diverse characters in touch with their desires: “Mornings, my hands grazed the plump new swellings of flesh on her chest—there was no question of warrant or license, no sense of shameful impurity. . . We’d lay there entwined, my stiff still-miniature self nestled in the cleft of her buttocks, awakening to beauty, the unfiltered grace of the soul.”
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2008 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2008