Synopses & Reviews
The mechanical men in these stories—Industrial Age holdovers, outsiders wanting for relevance and respect, or overwhelmed people who confuse the certainties of one reality with the doubts of another—are cut off in some way from contemporary culture.
Sometimes in these stories, which Randy F. Nelson calls "thought experiments about values in conflict," the characters are like the Native American prison guard in "Escape": Rifkin thinks that atonement is possible even for fugitive killers. Others are less sanguine. In "Breakers," a corporate hitman arrives on a forgettable island off the African coast. His mission: to shut down a hellish, polluting, ship-demolition business. His nemesis: a lawyer, now gone Heart-of-Darkness crazy, who preceded him years earlier for the same purpose. The bottom drops out in other stories, rearranging all reference points to good and bad, true and false. In "Abduction," for instance, a distraught young woman summons a tabloid reporter to a grubby hotel room, where the now-lifeless alien who had invaded her body lies wrapped in a sheet.
Nelson once explained his motivations by alluding to a line in a Gabriel García Márquez story. A crowd of villagers are gazing upon a man, "but even though they were looking at him, there was no room for him in their imagination." "Stories and characters and situations that ask the imagination to accommodate something bigger, further, deeper—that's what I'm after," said Nelson.
"These lightly absurd tales, recalling Barthelme in their elegance and T. C. Boyle in their inventiveness, trace some of the boundaries of human loneliness and need for connection. In these stories the natural and mechanical worlds clash again and again, and in that clash the author finds comedy and vibrant life."—Erin McGraw, author of The Good Life: Stories
"Nelson has a great range of interests and a wicked sense of paradox. He is disciplined and adventurous in equal measure."—Robert Anderson, author of Little Fugue: A Novel
"The worlds of many of these stories are fantastically imaginary and imaginative, even hallucinatory."—Independent Weekly (Durham, NC)
"[Nelson's] thirteen offerings, which vary broadly in topic, voice and tone, are united by his ability to enmesh downtrodden figures in situations that highlight our biggest contemporary dilemmas . . . Nelson's talent for irony does more than simply point out our cultural hypocrisy, it also elucidates our most personal dilemmas . . . Nelson is expert at crafting scenes of desperation resolved, zealotry succumbed to and disaffection upended—all while refusing to repeat instance, image or idea . . . This is impressive at a time when people seeking cultural understanding have come to rely less on the stories our finest writers tell us and more on familiar melodramas . . . Nelson is, most definitely, spinning the absolute—and perfectly crafted—truth."—San Francisco Chronicle
"Running the gamut from weird to outright creepy, these thirteen stories shed sympathetic light on the unseemly, the ungainly and the unrefined."—Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Randy F. Nelson is a professor of English at Davidson College. He is the author of The Almanac of American Letters. Nelson's stories have appeared in such publications as Gettysburg Review, North American Review, and Kenyon Review.