Synopses & Reviews
These eleven stories take us from the Czech Republic to Alaska, from Siberia to West Texas, as they stake out territories straddling the border between life and death. In the title story the usual thoroughness of an insurance claims investigator spirals into obsession when Howard learns that a beautiful, drowned policyholder was a childhood neighbor he never knew. He is left uncentered, and his wife is convinced that he is having an affair. In "How the Dead Live" Karen keeps her late father's spirit trapped in her home until her newly detected pregnancy drives her thoughts outward and forward. In "Unfinished Business" Ciri's ghost cannot forsake her previous life's routines, or the chance that even in death she might love or be loved by the living.
Gina Ochsner's interests in folklore and myth often suffuse these stories of visitations, crossings, partings, and second chances. Fears and longings, for example, are often projected onto animals such as the earthbound, ice-covered swans of the Siberian tundra in "Sixty-six Degrees North." Likewise, Ochsner's insights into history-burdened contemporary life in Eastern Europe and Russia also filter through. In "Then, Returning" a Lithuanian and a Russian sort body parts and marble fragments in a Vilnius cemetery hit by stray artillery shells. As they work, a group of American genealogy buffs approaches, filled with hope that a day among the gravestones will bring order to their family trees.
In such wildly inventive ways, Gina Ochsner gives us new means to think about how the dead remain among us and how we can find beauty and solace even in graceless times and places.
"You know at once when you read a fiction writer who has the Big Gift. The world of the story is instantly real in a way that surprises you. The prose is instinctively and intensely sensual. The characters are full of yearning. The Necessary Grace to Fall has these qualities in abundance. Gina Ochsner unmistakably has the Big Gift."--Robert Olen Butler
"These stories, from the Midland oilfields to post-Soviet Vilnius, are distinguished by loss, and by intractable yearning. It is Gina Ochsner's achievement to show with such sensitivity and range the various ways we continue to fail each other and ourselves. A moving and powerful debut."--Ehud Havazelet
"Gina Ochsner writes with the delight and knowing of a born conjurer. Her world is that liminal space, that disconnect, between nature and our lives—heaven's winking outside the office window, grass pushing up around the casket, umbrellas opening like the great beating of wings."--Carol Edgarian
She is . . . a breath-taking acrobat with image and metaphor, dexterous with point of view. . . . She also reaches back to what matters most: myth, legend, and the healing power of storytelling. . . . The thing about Ochsner's characters is that, though they most assuredly do stumble and fall, they also possess 'the necessary grace' to rise.”--Jill Barnum, North Dakota Quarterly
"Ochsner is playful and fearless in her search to understand life through suicide, terminal illness, violence and war. Her mesmerizing prose is remarkably well-balanced. She writes with a quiet authority the grasps the poetic nature of the short-story form. Yet she possesses an innate lightheartedness that takes the edge off the Grim Reaper's scythe."--Susan Wickstrom, The Oregonian
"With the sensitivity of poetry The Necessary Grace to Fall does what most of us avoid or cannot do: it explores death, which, looked at clearly and closely, is not, we learn, so much fearsome as it is profoundly peculiar. Death is the ultimate Other and the breakdown of illusion. These stories are a fresh apprehension of life. Gina Ochsner has given us a brave gift.”--Antietam Review
About the Author
Gina Ochsner is the author of the novel The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight and the short story collection People I Wanted to Be. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Glimmer Train, Kenyon Review, and many other magazines. She has received the Ruth Hindman Foundation Prize, the Raymond Carver Prize, and the Chelsea Award for Short Fiction. In addition to winning the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, The Necessary Grace to Fall also won the Oregon Book Award, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, and was an Austin Chronicle Top Ten Pick. Ochsner lives in western Oregon with her husband and children.
Table of Contents
The Necessary Grace to Fall 1
What Holds us Fast 22
How the Dead Live 40
Unfinished Business 52
Cartography of a Heart 73
Modern Taxidermy 84
Then, Returning 105
Eulogy for Red 122
Sixty-six Degrees North 137
The Erlenmeyer Flask 155
From the Bering Straight 170